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Img. Source: Business Week

As Americans drive increasingly older vehicles, statutes of repose inflict Draconian results for drivers of these older cars, trucks, and SUVs.

A statute of repose completely cuts off liability for a product manufacturer – including car companies – at a certain date (typically 6 to 15 years) following the product's manufacture or sale. In states with a statute of repose, drivers or passengers injured or killed by a defect in a vehicle (or other product) after the statute of repose date cannot recover for their injuries. The manufacturer who designed and sold the defective vehicle is completely immune, even if the manufacturer actually knew about the defect and acted with malice or intentional conduct.

Who drives these older, high-mileage vehicles?

I do, for one. But also young drivers purchasing their very first car. Also, poorer drivers who cannot afford a newer vehicle or those trying to pay down debt and downsizing into a more affordable car or truck.

And, apparently, nearly everyone else.

A report by Paul A. Einstein at NBC News finds that Americans are driving their vehicles longer than ever – 10 years and 150,000 miles is the new norm. In fact, 80% of drivers will keep their vehicle for a decade or longer according to a survey by

A separate survey by Black Book found that most owners will not trade in their vehicles until they have at least 125,000 to 150,000 miles – and 200,000+ mile trade-ins are increasingly common.

One factor driving this change – increased reliability and better service of vehicles that allow them to be driven longer.

Another factor – an economy that makes it difficult for many to replace or upgrade aging vehicles. For example, popular financial advisor, radio host, and public speaker – Dave Ramsey – often counsels those with financial difficulties to ditch their high payment vehicles and replace them with a more affordable "beater" until they get back on their feet. Participants in Ramsey's Total Money Makeover program even have an online forum thread to post pictures of their "beaters."

"Americans are holding onto their cars longer today, and this aged vehicle is what's being traded in as we've seen a rise in new-car sales activity," said Ricky Beggs, an analyst at Black Book.

Paul A. Einstein at NBC News

What states have statutes of repose? More than you might think. The most recent compilation I could find is somewhat dated – March 2006. But according to that compilation, the following states have statutes of repose for product defects:

State-by-State Compilation of Product Defect Statutes of Repose
State Statute of Repose
Colorado 7 years from date equipment first used, unless injury is caused by hidden defect.
Connecticut 10 years from date of sale, though time can be extended by express written warranty.
Florida 12 years from delivery of product to first purchaser if product has useful life of 10 years or less. Products are presumed to have a useful life of 10 years or less, except for certain aircraft, vessels, railroad equipment, and improvements to real property. In those cases, the statute of repose may be 20 years from delivery or the express useful life as stated by the manufacturer.
Georgia 10 years from first sale of the product.
Idaho 10 years or after the expiration of the product's safe useful life. A safe useful life may be established by clear and convincing evidence that the useful life is greater than 10 years.
Illinois 10 or 12 years – the claim must be brought within the shorter period, either 10 years from date of sale, or delivery to the initial user or 12 years from the date of first sale or delivery by the seller, unless there is an express warranty for a longer period.
Indiana 10 years after delivery of the product to the initial user, unless the claim arises at least 8 years, but less than 10 years after initial delivery. Then the claim may be commenced at any time within the 2 years after the cause of action arises.
Iowa 15 years, unless an express warranty extends the time.
Kansas 10 years or after expiration of the useful safe life under the Kansas Product Liability Act. The 10 year SOR may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. The SOR may also be extended by express written warranty.
Kentucky 5 years from date of sale or 8 years from date of manufacture. The presumption of safe useful life may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.
Nebraska 10 years from date of manufacture if product was manufactured in Nebraska. If the product was manufactured outside of Nebraska, then the state of manufacture's statute of repose will apply (but not less than 10 years). If the state of manufacture has no statute of repose, then no statute of repose will apply.
New Hampshire 12 years from the date it left the manufacturer's control and possession or date of sale, whichever occurs later.
North Carolina 6 years from initial purchase by end user.
North Dakota 10 years from date of initial purchase or 11 years from date of manufacture.
Ohio 10 years from date product delivered to first owner. Time may be extended by express written warranty.
Oregon 10 years from date of initial purchase.
Rhode Island 10 year statute of repose was found unconstitutional
Tennessee 10 years from initial purchase or within 1 year from expiration of useful life, whichever is shorter.
Texas 15 years from initial sale, unless lengthened by express written warranty.
Washington 12 years from date of initial delivery of the product. The presumption of safe useful life may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence or by express written warranty.

*NOTE: This compilation is dated March 2006. This chart is intended as a guide and various statutes of repose may have been modified since the compilation was originally published by Wilson Elser. You should consult an attorney if you have any questions about a statute of repose applicable to your claim.

Statutes of repose are designed to protect companies, not people. Statutes of repose protect and immunize defective and dangerous products without adequate justification. Why should a manufacturer be immunized from taking any responsibility for a defective product just because it has been lucky enough that the vehicle has not been in a wreck or the defect has not otherwise manifested itself for a certain period of time?

Who pays when manufacturers receive these government-issued immunity bailouts? We do as taxpayers. When the wrongdoer does not compensate for or provide medical treatment, the public must pay for it in the form of insurance premiums and tax dollars to Medicaid, Medicare, and assistance programs.

Statutes of repose and other immunity protections save auto companies (and other corporations) money, but they don't save taxpayers money and they ultimately cost lives.

[More on your 7th Amendment Rights]

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(c) Copyright 2012 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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