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Products Liability: SUV Wrongful Death Case

Introduction (Brief History)

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation is a global (multinational) manufactures of automobiles. It has its headquarters in Minato, Tokyo. Mitsubishi is part of the formerly biggest industrial group in Japan Mitsubishi keiretsu. Mitsubishi was formed in the year 1970 from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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Case Study

The jury of a Florida court ordered Mitsubishi Motors Corp. to pay almost eleven million dollars ($) in wrongful death damages. Donna and Peter were compensated the sum of eleven million dollars for the death of their son, Scott. Scott was onboard a Montero Sport SUV when it crashed and cost him his life. Scotts’ parents, Donna and Peter Laliberte, accused Mitsubishi Motors Corp. of being aware of a defect in the seat belts and the seat recliner, in particular the SUV Montero Sport. Despite Mitsubishi Motors Corp. being aware of this information, they went ahead in selling the SUV Montero Sport (Lebowitz & Mzhen, 2008).

Due to the mentioned defects of the Montero Sport SUV year 2000 model, Scott’s head was partially ejected during the accident. This resulted in Scott’s head being crushed by the weight of the car as it rolled over. Scotts’ parents, Donna and Peter Laliberte had petitioned the jury to award them twenty-five million dollars ($) for the misfortune.

During the accident, the Montero Sport SUV rolled over. Because of the mentioned defects, Scott’s head was partially ejected and crashed against the road and the SUV. The jury’s verdict on the case was that Mitsubishi had to compensate the Laliberte family a total of eleven million dollars. Ten million dollars was to cover all the emotional pain suffered by the late Scott’s family. In addition, the remaining money was to cover for the funeral expenses of Scott (Lebowitz & Mzhen, 2008).

A detailed report about the Montero Sport SUV indicated that the vehicle had the following defects.

  • Glitches with the seatbelt retractor;
  • Defective seatbelt webbing;
  • Glitches with the seatbelt latch;
  • Glitches with the seatbelt geometry;

Part of the case that was petitioned against Mitsubishi Motors Corp. was that Mitsubishi tried to cover up the design flaw without notifying the public. The Laliberte had argued that the automaker, Mitsubishi Motors, brought out a revised model for the 2000 Montero Sport SUV to cover the flaws of the original model. Nonetheless, Mitsubishi Motors defense was that the new revised model was not to cover the design flaws of the original model, the 2000 Montero Sport SUV. Mitsubishi Motors claimed the revised model was not to address the seatbelt flaws of the original Montero Sport SUV, but rather to correct issues with the SUV’s front structure.

Since this case, Mitsubishi Motors has been trying to recover its reputation after the public was made aware of the alleged cover-up of the design flaw of the Montero Sport SUV year 2000 model. It is alleged the automaker tried to cover up the design flaw, as opposed to recalling the vehicles (Lebowitz & Mzhen, 2008).

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In law, product liability is a field in which retailers, distributors, manufacturer and all they that handle a product other that the end consumer, are held responsible for any harm that might be fold the consumer or end user. Although the term product is an ambiguous word, in product liability, it is limited to tangible things. In common law, there are numerous product liabilities. However, these liabilities are similar as they are different. The plaintiffs could have argued their case based on product liabilities such as; negligence, misrepresentation, strict liabilities and defects (Pathak, 2007). It is common in most jurisdictions, to base different theories on plaintiff’s cause of action. These theories are strict tort liability, breach of warranty negligence and misrepresentation.

Plaintiff is a party, and individual, or a group is persons who initiate a lawsuit before a court. The plaintiff is always seeking a legal remedy by filling the lawsuit. If successful, the court issues a judgment in favor of the plaintiff and the accused based of the demands of the plaintiff (Prentice & Bredeson, 2010).

Negligence: A plaintiff can file a lawsuit based on negligence. In common law, an individual or an organization is believed to have acted negligently if their actions are considered without the boundaries of a reasonably cautious individual or organization acting under comparable situations (Pathak, 2007).

In the Maryland accident case, the Laliberte family established negligence as a cause of action under the laws of torts. The plaintiffs (the Laliberte family) had to prove that, either the defendant, Mitsubishi Motors corp. had a duty to the plaintiff.

There is a code of conduct and standards that manufactures ought to conform to else the manufactures will have neglected his or her obligation. The plaintiffs had to prove that the defendant, Mitsubishi Motors had breached its duty to adhere to these codes of conduct/standard. Conclusively, the plaintiff had to argue that the defendant’s negligence was a factor in the harm that befell the plaintiff. The Laliberte family argued that the design flaws and defects of the Montero Sport SUV year 2000 model did led to the events that caused the death of their son Scott. It was mandatory of Mitsubishi Motors to inform users of the design flaw in their Montero Sport SUV year 2000 model. In addition, the defendant had to recall all models that had the flaw.

Misrepresentation: In advertising, misrepresentation is the giving of false information to end users. By instilling confidence of a given product, manufactures, suppliers, retailers and so forth, advertise their products to potential customers or users. It is common for manufactures to applaud their product as the best in any market environment (Prentice & Bredeson, 2010). As for the Maryland accident case, the defendant, Mitsubishi Motors, ought to have tested the Montero Sport SUV model before launching the automobile. In addition, the advertisements and commercials ought to be attractive and appealing to any potential customers. Therefore, the plaintiff assumes that, had the design flaw of the Montero Sport SUV year 2000 model been made public, individuals including their late son, Scott, would have opted for a different car model. The allegation that the defendant, Mitsubishi motors, failed to make public the design flaw and opted to cover up the flaw was arguable in favor of the plaintiff (Halbert & Ingulli, 2012).

It was mandatory of Mitsubishi Motors to recall the Montero Sport SUV year 2000 model as soon as they had noticed the design flaw. In addition, public announcement ought to have been made to notify users of the potential risks pertaining the Native SUV year 2000 model.

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Strict Liability: The rule of strict liability imposed on product liability was also an additional ground for the plaintiff’s (Laliberte family) case. The strict liability rule makes all manufactures, for this case, Mitsubishi Motors responsible for the defect in the Native SUV involved in the crash. The case found the defendant to be liable for damages as the strict liability rule claims that, a manufacture is liable if they engage in the business on a regular basis. In addition, the defendant, Mitsubishi Motors was liable based of the strict liability rule as it states that a manufacture is liable despite them exercising care and that there was no direct contact with the affected end user and the manufacturer (Halbert & Ingulli, 2012).

Defects: The plaintiff’s argument that the product, the Montero Sport SUV was defective or rather had a design flaw that contributed to the fatality in the accident. A defect, an imperfection within a design that rendered the Montero Sport SUV unsafe contributed to the death of the son of the plaintiffs, (the Laliberte family) (Halbert & Ingulli, 2012).

Safety Procedures Adapted to Ensure Greater Safety

Mitsubishi Motors has since gone an extra mile to ensure they produce better safe cars. Mitsubishi claim that they are equipped with some of the worlds most advanced safety features.

In addition, Mitsubishi has the equipment and skills needed by the (F.M.V.S.S) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. They have an innovative body design dubbed RISE. The body design is to help protect the vehicles occupants. Mitsubishi vehicles come with the advance six-airbag system that packs two advance dual stage additional airbags (in the front part of a vehicle). Mitsubishi models have an Approaching Vehicle Alert System. The system is designed to alert pedestrians of the vehicle presences only when vehicle is driven at low speeds (Mitsubishi).

An Active Stability Control mechanism that monitors the grip of the tires on the road is an additional safety feature. In case of slippery or loss of control, the ACS (active stability control) collaborates with Anti-Lock breaking system to try halting the vehicle. Anti-Lock Brakes system designed to reduce the chance of skid in the event of loss of control of the vehicle. Lastly but certainly not least, Mitsubishi Motors placed the batteries of their automobiles directly in the unibody. This is supposed to keep the occupants safe in cases of collusion (Mitsubishi).

Safety Standards and Regulatory Bodies

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is an agency within the USA that covers all automobiles and its related safeties. The (NHTSA) body describes its mission statement as “Safety lives, prevent injuries, and reduce vehicle related crashes”. This body is responsible for writing and enforcing safety issues and regulations within the USA. Additionally, they collude hand in hand with other bodies as the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard to enforce road safeties.

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 is a regulatory body for automobiles in the USA. It is responsible for regulating all vehicles lighting systems, signaling systems and reflective systems.


Accidents are bound to happen despite there being the safest measures. Many factors come into play during accidents, and all are unique no matter how similar they appear. However, manufactures have a role to play and a responsibility toward roads and automobiles safety. Manufactures have the obligation to not only design, but also test and retest their vehicles before launching them to the potential customers.

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Mitsubishi Motors should have a strict policy to both design and testing of all its automobiles. Thorough crash tests, usability tests, design flaws and all factors that can lead to accidents should not be over looked during manufacturing. Despite there being chances that a flaw might be overlooked, any report and or discovery of the flaw should be dealt with priority. In addition, Mitsubishi Motors should avoid any misrepresentation of all of their products. End-users should be notified in case any design flaw is discovered after launch of a product. Conclusively, recall and rectification of affected automobiles should both be emphasized and practiced to avoid fatality and accidents on affected automobiles (Mitsubishi).


Halbert, T., & Ingulli, E. (2012). Law and ethics in the business environment. Mason OH: South Western Educational Publ.

Lebowitz, D., & Mzhen, A. (2008). Maryland accident law blog. Mitsubishi Ordered to Pay $11 Million in Products Liability SUV Wrongful Death Case, 1. Web.

Mitsubishi, M. (2012). Reasons to rest assured. Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. Web.

Pathak, A. (2007). Legal aspects of business. New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill.

Prentice, R. A., & Bredeson, D. (2010). Student guide to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act: What business needs to know now that it is implemented. Mason, Ohio: South-western/Cengage Learning.

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