Lawsuits Needed to Reduce Submerged Vehicle Drowning Deaths

Effective civil trial lawyers punish individuals, corporations, and governments for irresponsible behavior. One of the biggest culprits has been the auto industry. Thanks to large jury verdicts, the industry has been forced to knuckle under to the public’s demand for safer vehicles. However, safety issues remain.

Safety belts could be more effective. Vehicles could be designed to rollover less easily. Roofs could be reinforced to avoid crush injuries during rollovers. Stale tires could be taken off the market. Air bags could be less crude, more effective.

These are well-known safety issues. To its credit, the auto industry has made some improvements in these areas. However, more can always be done. When the industry falls short, lawsuits will be brought to exact accountability. Safety should never take a back seat to luxury. Profits should never be more important than people.

One area where the industry continues to fall woefully short is in its attention to submerged vehicle deaths. While safety improvements have been made regarding safety belts, rollover accidents, tires, and air bags, little has been done to increase the likelihood of surviving a crash into water.

In fact, because of the near universal use of electric windows and the increased use of window glazing in side windows, similar to what is used in front windshields, the danger of drowning in a submerged vehicle has increased since the 1970s.

The safest way to exit a submerged vehicle is through a side window. Unfortunately, except for some off-road vehicles, like Jeeps and Hummers, that are equipped with built-in protections for water-fording, such as a sealed central venting system to protect drivetrain components from moisture, the electrical systems in today’s vehicles quickly malfunction when exposed to water, preventing the side windows from opening.

The next best way to escape a submerged vehicle is by breaking a side window with a hammer or a similar metal punching device. These devices work well with tempered glass. They do not work so well with the advanced glazing used in some side windows to keep passengers from being evicted during a crash.

Hence, three solutions: Sealed central venting systems to protect drivetrain components from moisture, thus insuring the proper function of electric windows following submersion; a manual system for rolling down windows; and a built-in, easy to reach tool for window busting.

Very little litigation has been brought against auto manufacturers for failing to prevent this foreseeable danger. Until more action is taken, the industry is unlikely to address the problem in a serious way on its own. Safety costs money. It is only when ignoring the problem becomes more costly than fixing it that the industry will pay attention. Final verdicts can be more costly than safety.

NOTE: Shortly after posting this blog, we were contacted by two individuals who are working at the forefront of the effort to reduce submerged vehicle drownings. Gerald M. Dworkin is employed by Lifesaving Resources, LLC as a professional Aquatics Safety and Water Resource Consultant. He has written and spoken extensively on the subject of drowning and aquatic injury prevention and emergency management. (Here is a link to one of his articles: Escape and Rescue from Submerged Vehicles.) The other fine person who contacted us is Anna Stewart with the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Palm Beach County. The Coalition’s website is a wealth of knowledge regarding water safety beyond just the subject of this blog. Here is must-read article on its website: How to Escape a Sinking Vessel.

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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

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