The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines the crashworthiness of a vehicle and its components, which are designed to protect occupants from fatal or serious injury. Parts of a vehicle that are considered crashworthiness features include seat belts, crumple zones, air bags, and other safety features. When safety features in a vehicle fail to protect occupants, those injured or the families of those killed may be eligible to file a crashworthiness lawsuit.
If you have been injured, or if a loved one has been killed, due to the failure of a safety feature in an automobile or other passenger vehicle, contact Attorney Group to learn more about your options regarding a crashworthiness lawsuit. We offer free, no-obligation consultations, and if you have a case we can connect you with a crashworthiness lawsuit attorney who can assist you in pursuing a claim. You may be eligible to recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and wrongful death damages related to the loss of a family member.
Why are There Crashworthiness
In a crashworthiness lawsuit, investigators look not only at the cause of the accident, but also at the injuries caused by the accident. Defectively designed parts of the vehicle intended to protect occupants may have made the injuries worse. Vehicles are required to be manufactured and designed free of defects and unreasonable dangers, and the failure of a car maker or car part maker to do this can give rise to a crashworthiness lawsuit if the failure results in injury or death. A manufacturer may be held liable if a vehicle contains design defects that may cause additional injuries or death even if the crash was caused by something unrelated to the defect.
Defects that May Give Rise to Crashworthiness Lawsuits
Many vehicle components may be defective or otherwise fail, giving rise to crashworthiness lawsuits. Some of these components include the following:
Fuel-Fed Fires—When the fuel system in a vehicle fails due to a defect, severe injury or death can result. Fuel-fed fires occur when the fuel tank ruptures or is punctured. In addition, fuel lines can break apart at connection points that can also lead to fires that may be the basis for a crashworthiness lawsuit. Fuel system defects can lead to explosions and fires that occur after an accident. In some cases, the accident may even have been minor and otherwise completely survivable.
Seatback Failure—While the seatback inside a vehicle can be viewed as simply a place to support an occupant’s back while driving or riding in a vehicle, seatbacks are actually designed with safety features as well. One study of rear seatback injuries and fatalities published in the United States National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health found that rear seatback failures were associated with increased mortality and injury.
Common seatback failures that can lead to a crashworthiness lawsuit include the failure of the back support system to remain upright and the deformation of the seatback frame. There have also been reports of problems with the mounting system holding the seat to the floor or the detachment of non-integral headrests that can cause injury if they detach during an accident.
Cars with bucket seats have a higher risk of seatback failure, but when the front seats fail, they often cause injury to back seat passengers. Children are most at risk when front seats fail as the adults in the front seat could severely injure them when their bodies are thrown into the back seat. In addition, there have been reports of vehicle occupants being thrown through sun or moon roof after their seatbacks failed.
Seatbelt Failure—Seatbelt failure is another common basis for crashworthiness lawsuits filed against vehicle manufacturers. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), seatbelt use is the most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries in automobile accidents. However, when seatbelts are defective or fail to protect passengers, a crashworthiness lawsuit may result if injuries are caused by the failure. In addition, recent research has shown that seatbelts may be less effective in rollover crashes, especially should the seatbelt fail. Roof crush, ejection and belt-failure are inter-related hazards for several reasons:
- A weak vehicle roof could lead to severe head and neck injury if the roof crushes
- Distorted windows and doors could result in ejection of passengers
- Safety belt failure can lead to partial ejection of the passenger
In 2002, the NHTSA reported that more than 2.9 million people suffered seatbelt injuries in 2002 and almost 43,000 people died after injuries sustained by a seatbelt. Some of the deaths and injuries were due to poorly designed belts or improper installation. A crashworthiness lawsuit may result when:
- Belted occupants receive serious injuries while others receive minor injuries in the same crash
- An occupant sustains serious injury while wearing a loose fitting belt
- An occupant is found unbelted but insists they were wearing a seatbelt prior to the accident
- A belted occupant makes contact with the windshield
- There is very little damage to the vehicle but the victim suffered serious seatbelt injuries
- The seatbelt is found to be ripped or torn
Airbag Fails to Deploy—The Federal government has made airbags mandatory in all new cars and light trucks manufactured in the United States after 1992. The NHTSA says airbags have saved more than 28,000 lives in the United States. However, when an airbag does not deploy as it is supposed to, people may been killed or injured. Airbags are not meant to deploy in all crashes and their deployment is based on several factors, including speed, other vehicles that may be involved, and the direction of impact. When airbags are meant to deploy and do not, or when they deploy improperly, this could lead to a crashworthiness lawsuit.
In some cases, crash sensors in the vehicle may have been placed in an improper location. This could lead the bag to inflate unnecessarily or trigger the airbag when it is too late. When the airbag deflates improperly, it can cause severe neck, back and head injuries to the vehicle occupants. Airbags are equipped with the equivalent of the airline black box, so it is possible to determine whether the airbag inflated properly and at the right time by analyzing the data.
Roof Crush—More than 250,000 people are killed each year in rollover crashes and more than 10,000 die from roof crush injuries each year. When the roof of a vehicle collapses, occupants are left with minimal space to avoid injury. In addition, because a crushed roof distorts doors and windows, there is a risk of ejection from the vehicle.
In 1973, the United States passed federal laws that required standard roof testing by manufacturers, but the standard was required only for vehicles weighing 6,000 pounds or less. SUVs, which have a higher chance of rollover crashes than other vehicles, can weigh significantly more than that, and manufacturers are accordingly not required to test SUV roofs for standard protections. In addition, there are no regulations regarding windshield integrity. When a windshield is destroyed, there is a 33 percent higher chance of a roof crush in a rollover crash.
Because a roof crush accident can cause serious spinal, head and neck injuries, occupants who are involved in these accidents may consider a crashworthiness lawsuit. Research has shown that vehicle roofs could be reinforced for less than $50 in most vehicles.
On-Road Rollover/Stability Issue—Rollover and stability issues are a common basis for crashworthiness lawsuits as well. Rollover accidents are common in SUVs as they have higher centers of gravity than other vehicles. However, any type of vehicle can roll over in an accident. Few cars come equipped with roll bars, a safety feature that reduces the chance of roof crush.
Changes to safety features in newer SUVs have led to fewer rollover crashes, but older models may still have the risk of rolling over in an accident, as many were not equipped with electronic stability systems designed to prevent conditions that can lead to a rollover. In other cases, an older SUV may not have the lower center of gravity that newer models have, also making them prone to roll over. These factors are why it is worth pursuing a claim for a crashworthiness lawsuit if someone is hurt or injured in a rollover crash, especially in an older model vehicle.
Lack of Friendly Interior with Insufficient Padding—Lack of friendly interior with insufficient padding is found in many 15-passenger vans used by churches, daycares and elder-care facilities. These vans, which were originally designed to carry cargo, often have seats with minimal padding as well as metal walls. The vehicles are also prone to rollover as they use the same wheelbase used for smaller vehicles, but added an additional overhand to the rear of the van. This causes an imbalance in the vehicle making it more likely to roll over during a crash than other types of vehicles. Because the interior of the van is unfriendly and does not provide sufficient padding, occupants can be severely injured leading to a crashworthiness lawsuit.
Have Questions About a Crashworthiness Lawsuit? Call Us Today.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, or a loved one had died of injuries sustained in an accident, and you believe the injury death may be related to vehicle part designed to protect you, you may be eligible for a crashworthiness lawsuit. Contact Attorney Group today for a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more.