The lawsuit brought against Porsche by Roger W. Rodas’ widow has of course captured a great deal of attention because it involves the death of a celebrity (Paul Walker) and an ultra-rare, ultra-exotic sports car, the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT. But the law involved in automobile defect claims is at its core very simple.
The common law has long recognized a cause of action for breach of warranty. Specifically, when a product is manufactured for sale, the manufacturer and/or seller warrant that it is reasonably safe for its intended purposes, and that it is free of defects which would render it unsafe for general use. Additional warranties apply when a buyer relies on the seller to provide a specific product for a specific intended purpose; namely, that the product will be safe and appropriate for the particular purpose for which it was purchased.
In this case, Rodas’ widow has alleged that the car was traveling 55 mph when the suspension failed, causing the crash which took the two men’s lives. As to this count and these details, the lawsuit is no different from any other claim against a manufacturer whose product fails and thereby causes injury to its user(s). The law places strict liability upon a manufacturer for injuries caused by a hidden defect, which means the manufacturer is liable for injuries even though it may not have been negligent in any way. Generally speaking, a certain number of manufactured products will fail no matter how careful and thorough the manufacturer is and no matter how good their quality control. The law recognized this phenomenon in the 1940s, and strict liability was implemented to compensate those injured by such defective products.
However, the lawsuit goes on to allege that the car lacked full racing-style safety features such as a crash cage and racing fuel cell. This count is essentially one of warranty of fitness for a particular purpose in that it alleges that because the car was designed and produced to be a high performance Le Mans-type racing car, it should have had equivalent safety features appropriate for that type of racing.
What comes of this second count is an interesting question because according to the complaint itself, the car was not being used for racing when the crash occurred. It was being driven at 55 mph, which is an ordinary highway speed. So far, there is no legal precedent to say that a car’s performance level should dictate its safety features when driven on the street at ordinary speeds. While it is likely that any resolution in this case will take several years, legal scholars and those in the auto industry are sure to keep an eye on any new legal precedent to come from this high profile case.