There are plenty of advantages to purchasing a hybrid vehicle, but recent recalls have left some consumers questioning whether it’s a good idea.
How does a hybrid vehicle work?
A hybrid vehicle has an internal combustion engine and an electric motor (sometimes more than one) that uses energy stored in batteries. A hybrid vehicle’s batteries are charged through regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine. These vehicles have better fuel economy than gas-powered cars, which makes them an attractive choice for some drivers.
Recalls for electric and hybrid vehicle battery problems
Since early 2020, five manufacturers have issued recalls related to hybrid vehicle batteries. The defects allegedly could cause fires or stalling.
General Motors, Stellantis, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz have recalled vehicles because of fires caused by issues with their internal batteries.
|Mercedes recalls the 2019 Smart Fortwo electric vehicle (EV) because its battery made by LG had a defect that could ignite and cause a fire.
|Hyundai recalls some 2019 and 2020 Kona EVs for a similar reason
|General Motors begins to recall more than 140,000 Chevrolet Bolt EVs from 2017 through 2022 because of manufacturing defects in battery cells after the defect had caused at least 10 fires
|Hyundai issues a second battery recall for 2019 and 2020 Konas and 2020 Ioniq vehicles because a short could increase the risk of fires, even when parked
|Stellantis/Chrysler recalled some 2017 and 2018 Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivans with LG batteries after reports of fires
|Volkswagen recalls 2021 ID4 electric vehicles because of poor battery connections
There is some controversy in the EV industry about whether hybrid vehicles are at higher risk for fire than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, which are “traditional” vehicles.
Automotive analyst Oliver Petschenyk told Forbes in 2022 that he believes the biggest risk to hybrids and plug-in hybrid EVs is because there are two powertrains in a single vehicle (an ICE powertrain and EV powertrain), which means components are closely packaged to exhausts. Batteries also have a higher duty cycle than EV batteries, which could lead to cells that fail because of an internal short circuit.
Even so, some experts argue that we see traditional cars catch fire frequently, and we don’t take note of it as much because it’s more commonplace and expected, whereas the newer technology of EVs and hybrids would subject it to additional scrutiny.
How recalls and fire risks affect owners of hybrid vehicles
If your vehicle has been recalled, you should contact the dealer or seller for more information about repair, trade, or other compensation.
If you were injured as a result of a hybrid battery malfunction, you could be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Types of product liability lawsuits
These types of injuries would fall under the category of a product liability claim, which is the area of law that involves harm from a defective product.
In general, there are three types of defective product claims:
- Manufacturing defect;
- Design defect; and
- Failure to warn.
A manufacturing defect is when a product becomes dangerous because something went wrong during the manufacturing process. In other words, it would be safe if built and constructed properly according to its specifications but a breakdown in the manufacturing cycle led to a defect.
A design defect, on the other hand, is when the product is inherently dangerous because it was created or designed in a way that would lead to an unsafe situation for the user. Even if manufactured exactly as it is supposed to be, the product’s design is faulty and it can injure the end user.
Failure to warn would be if the manufacturer doesn’t provide adequate instructions or safety cautions, and a reasonable person would be likely to use the product unsafely. For example, we’ve all seen tags on appliances that warn a user not to use them in water. If a manufacturer doesn’t clearly set forth the item’s limitations or uses that would be dangerous, it could be a failure to warn.
In the case regarding hybrid vehicles, it would seem as though the defect is in the design. If it’s the situation that cars are catching fire because of an issue with the battery igniting because of proximity to other parts, having shorts, or similar, it would appear as though the cars and/or batteries were not designed to be used in the way they are.
But there’s a catch: The car’s manufacturer isn’t necessarily the same as the battery manufacturer. In most “traditional” cars, the parts are all made by the same company. As an example, if you purchase a new Honda car, you can be confident that it contains Honda-made parts.
If there were a defect and you had to sue the manufacturer, it would be clear that Honda would be the defendant.
However, many of the recalled batteries were manufactured by LG. You would need to know what company manufactured the faulty part, in addition to who manufactured the vehicle, itself. You can have more than one defendant in a product liability claim.
Should you file a lawsuit for a defective hybrid vehicle?
If your car was recalled, there will be a mechanism for you to either receive compensation for the cost of your vehicle or a repair. You can contact the dealer, seller, or manufacturer to find out what your recourse would be for a recall.
However, if your car actually caught fire because of a defect related to the battery, you might be able to file a personal injury lawsuit.
The basis for personal injury law is that the plaintiff (injured person) is entitled under the law to be made whole. They should be compensated for any financial losses they incurred because of the injury and should be restored to the financial condition they would be in if the accident hadn’t happened.
Personal injury includes both physical injury and property loss.
If you file a lawsuit for personal injury (including property loss), you need to prove that you lost money as a result of someone’s negligence.
If a vehicle was designed, manufactured, and sold with a defect that causes it to catch on fire, then there is likely negligence on the part of the manufacturer or another defendant, as discussed above.
However, the fact that you purchased the car is not a loss. If the car actually caught on fire and resulted in damage or loss of property, or if a person was physically injured because of the fire, then you can make a claim in the amount of money it would take to compensate you for your losses.