Can a car manufacturer be held liable for doors unlocking upon removing the keys from the ignition if this resulted in a physical attack upon the driver?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can a car manufacturer be held liable for doors unlocking upon removing the keys from the ignition if this resulted in a physical attack upon the driver?

A friend of mine was recently involved in an attack while in her car in her driveway. A masked individual came to her parked car. She panicked and removed her keys from the car where she had pepper spray attached. Doing so unlocked the car

door, allowing the perpetrator the opportunity to open her door, removing her from the car and stealing some of her valuables. Is there any case against the car

manufacturer for liability because the car door automatically unlocked once keys are removed from the ignition?

Asked on August 16, 2016 under Personal Injury, Florida


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Your friend would have to prove that this was a defect, which means basically that there is no good reason for the doors to unlock when the kesy are removed, which is unlikely, since there are are good reasons for the doors to unlock when you pull the keys out: convenience (you're usually getting out of the car when you pull the keys); to maybe make you less likely to be trapped in the car when the ignition goes off, after an accident; etc.. Plus she'd need to show that it was *foreseeable* that someone could be attacked because when in her car, with keys in and the doors locked, she would remove the keys to get at pepper spray--instead of, say, simply driving away. She'd also need to show that her reaction--reaching for pepper spray instead of driving off--was reasonable. And if she was not physically harmed to any significant degree, all she could sue for would be the value of the taken valuables--but she'd have to hire an automotive engineering expert to study the car and generate a report for her as evidence, and that would likely cost more than she could get back even if--as is unlikely--she won.

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