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What happens if my electric vehicle catches fire?

On Behalf of | Aug 31, 2023 | Product Liability

With the tax incentives ramping up, gas prices spiking and awareness of our carbon footprints increasing, electric vehicles are booming. Unfortunately, some new EV owners are discovering a danger that is increasingly common in EVs: battery fires. But, if an EV fire happens to you, what can you do?

Why do battery fires occur?

EVs are powered by lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are used because of their high energy density and long lifespan that does not require maintenance. Though, they can overheat, catch fire and explode due to external factors (puncture, etc.) or internal defects (manufacturing errors, etc.).

Product liability laws

If the EV fire was as a result of the EV or battery itself, then you likely have a product liability lawsuit. The product liability laws in our area of the country are similar in many respects, but also have some differences.

Statute of limitations

The first is the statute of limitations. This is the time limit you have to file your lawsuit. Once it expires, unless there is some exemption, you can no longer file against your EV and battery manufacturer. In Maryland and Virginia, the limit is generally 3 years from the date of the fire, but in Washington, DC, it is generally 2 years.

In addition, the discovery rule could start the statute of limitations on the date when you should have known or discovered the defect. For EV fire cases, unless there was a recall, this would likely not apply.

Statute of repose

This is another time limit, but instead of starting when the fire began, it starts from the initial EV sale. In Maryland and Virginia, there is no EV statute of repose, but in DC, it is 10 years from the EV purchase date for personal injury claims and 12 years for property damage claims.

Contributory negligence

In Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia, contributory negligence applies, which means that if you were at least partly at fault for the EV/battery malfunction, you could be barred from damages. This could apply if, for example, you overcharged the battery or physically damaged it in some way.

State of the art

This refers to the defense that could absolve the EV and/or battery manufacturer from liability, but they must be able to prove that the EV/battery contained the best available technology when manufactured. This defense is not allowed in Maryland or DC, but it can be used in Virginia.

Product liability and EV fires are complex, and the laws are constantly evolving, but you do have options if your EV does spontaneously combust.