RECOGNIZING THE CRASHWORTHINESS CASE

What is crashworthiness?

Crashworthiness is the ability of a vehicle to protect its occupants in the event of a crash. However, not all automobile products liability cases are “crashworthiness” cases. In Florida, there is a distinct advantage to having a “crashworthiness” or “secondary impact” case.

Crashworthiness cases are expensive and may require expenditure into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to properly prepare for trial. The practioner must recognize that preserving the evidence is the first concern.

Roof Crush:

Roof crush defects affect virtually all brands of SUV’s and Light trucks sold in America. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 216 allows roofs to be so weak that it provides nearly no protection whatsoever. In fact, vehicle roofs obtain up to 40% of their strength from the windshield. Accordingly, when windshield glass shatters during a rollover the roof no longer provides even the minimal strength required by FMVSS 216.

Volvo suggests that for optimum safety vehicles should be equipped with laminated side glass, pre-tensioners, and both frontal and side curtain airbags. Pre-tensioners are devices that fire a  pyro-technique charge milliseconds prior to impact, which tightens the seatbelt. Significantly reducing occupant extrusion in a crash. The costs of pre-tensioners can be as little as five dollars.

Rollover Accidents:

The instability of a vehicle is a well-known defect that affects virtually all compact SUV’s, Mini Vans and 15 Passenger Vans.     There has been successful litigation against various SUV manufacturers including the Toyota 4-Runner, Ford Explorer,  Bronco II, Mercury Mountaineer, Isuzu Rodeo, Mitsubishi Montero and Nissan Pathfinder. All of these vehicles have one trait in common – a narrow track width and a high center of gravity.

Fifteen Passenger Vans are particularly deadly vehicles since mostly church groups and schools use them. These vehicles are unstable in highway conditions and even more so when fully loaded. Additionally, the 15 Passenger Vans have inadequate safety restraint systems and provides almost no roof strength.

Door Opening :

Common sense dictates that doors should remain closed during collisions especially, during rollover collisions.        For example, the Ford Explorer incorporates a compression rod system to open it’s doors, which when involved in an accident can “for- shorten” allowing the door to unexpectedly open.

In addition to the above crashworthiness cases may also include defects involving airbags, seatbacks, child safety seats, park to reverse cases, fire cases, and glazing cases

In summation, in catastrophic injury or death cases always keep in the back of your mind whether or not a potential “crash worthiness” case may exist.

Omar F. Medina is a nationally recognized attorney practicing in the area of automotive crash worthiness and products liability cases. In 2002 Mr. Medina received ATLA’s Stephen J. Sharp Public Service Award, for his work in the Ford/Firestone litigation. Mr. Medina principal office is in Tampa, Florida.