Anytime an automobile is worked on altered, modified or completed after leaving the original manufacturer, it is considered an aftermarket vehicle modification. In our practice at Langdon & Emison we have seen many instances in which an aftermarket modification is not completed properly. Common acts of negligence include failing to comply with safety standards (which are often not required in the case of aftermarket vehicles to the same extent that they are in “original equipment” vehicles), inadequate quality testing and other poor service practices.
If you have been injured in an automobile accident, a vehicle modification may be to blame. Most clients — and even many lawyers — never consider making an aftermarket or alteration defect claim. This post gives brief advice to help you determine (1) if your vehicle has been altered; and (2) if the alteration is to blame for your injury.
What is an Aftermarket Vehicle?
Most cars and trucks on the road are “original equipment” (OEM) vehicles — meaning they were designed, manufactured, tested and sold by a major automaker (GM, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, etc.) and unaltered. However, there are thousands of vehicles on the road that have been modified before being put into use. Examples of modified vehicles include:
Recreational Vehicles (RV’s) – RVs are typically assembled without blueprints, engineers, or testing. Defects are commonly found in the fuel system, propane lines, and carbon monoxide exposure from generator exhaust.
Ambulances – Ambulances are supposed to keep us safe, but many are not designed to keep occupants (EMS and patients) safe in a crash. The “box” of the ambulance is not designed to protect occupants and, in one case we handled, was merely glued onto the vehicle.
Conversion Vans – Conversion vans are routinely modified without design drawings, blueprints or testing. There may be defects in the fuel system, restraint system, seat back strength, and roof strength.
Limousines – Limousines are made by cutting apart a original vehicle and stretching it out. There may suspension defects, fuel system defects and failures of the occupant restraint systems.
Mobile Lifts – Our firm has litigated matters with significant injuries for people who operated mobile lifts on the job; these lifts are often not used for their intended purpose and are altered to do jobs that they weren’t designed for.
Mobile Cranes – OSHA has identified alteration of the hook lifting device, dropped loads due to operator error or modification, or cranes overturning based on instability as common causes of crane accidents.
Unlike the OEM manufacturers, aftermarket vehicle manufacturers may not be required to comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Our firm has successfully litigated aftermarket defect claims from coast to coast, and each summer we see a rise in accidents involving aftermarket vehicles, especially an uptick in recreational vehicles, as this is the part of year where people hit the highways.
Identifying the Aftermarket Defect
Litigating a case centered around this type of vehicle calls for highly specialized experts to analyze the potential defects. In our practice, we’ve engaged former Ford Motor Company design engineers and professors at famed engineering programs have worked with automotive designs, engineers and other industry experts around the country identify defects in aftermarket modifications and alternative designs to keep occupants safe. to help establish and demonstrate design defects in the aftermarket modifications. Experts are absolutely critical in developing and presenting detailed engineering testimony required to prove causation. They are also necessary to identify specific defective components, identify the mode of failure, and identify safer alternative designs.
To learn more about aftermarket vehicles and litigation trends related to them, consider reading our in-depth articles on the aftermarket arena: