Vehicle Product Liability & Crashworthiness Cases Checklist – Florida

In a previous blog, I wrote about the “enhanced injuries” doctrine in Florida. The doctrine stands for the proposition that a wrongdoer can be liable for damages extending beyond those resulting from the initial negligence. The example I used was of a simple car accident that triggered a defect in the victim’s vehicle, which caused a fire and catastrophic injuries well beyond the minor injuries resulting from the initial impact alone. Today’s blog is about the common characteristics associated with enhanced injury cases in the context of motor vehicle accidents and the various defects leading to those accidents.

Common characteristics include:

  • One or a few occupants are catastrophically or fatally injured while others have minor or no injuries;
  • Minor collisions resulting in catastrophic injury or death – see example in first paragraph;
  • Severe damage to or failure of a localized area of the vehicle (examples: roof crush or seat belt collapse);
  • Seat-belted occupants who are seriously injured or who are partially or fully ejected.

Typical Reasons for Enhanced Injuries:

Post-Impact Fuel Fed Fire Defects
Auto engineers agree that an occupant who survives the crash forces should not be injured or killed by a subsequent fire. Fire causing defects include:

  • Fuel Tank Location & Shielding. Fuel tanks placed in positions of risk to crushing or compromise, or not adequately protected against puncture damage.
  • Siphoning, Filler Tube & Fuel Line Failure: Excessive post-accident fuel leaks caused by failing to install inexpensive check-valve devices.

Restraint System Defects

  • Well-designed and operational seat belts and air bags make us safer. Those that are not make us vulnerable to enhanced injuries.
  • Rear Seat Lap Belt (RSLB): Three-point (lap/shoulder) belts are safer and more effective than lap belt systems. Lap belts can cause severe abdominal and spinal cord injuries in situations where the 3-point system would have prevented all injuries.
  • Passive/Automatic Seat Belt Systems: These are the seat belt systems that secure occupants automatically. Those that are poorly designed secure occupants improperly or fail altogether.
  • Comfort Features: To provide maximum protection, the belt must fit snugly. Too much slack will make the belt less effective.
  • Reclining Passenger Seats: Seat belts are designed to be most effective when occupants are sitting upright. Reclining will render the belt system ineffective.
  • Inertial Unlatch/False Latch/Inadverdent Unlatch: Collision forces can cause seat belts to become unlatched. The best systems are designed to prevent this dangerous occurrence.
  • Air Bag Defects: There are two primary types of air bag defects, non-deployment and overly aggressive deployment.

Rollover Defects
As many as 20 percent of all auto accident fatalities result from rollover accidents. There are three primary theories of defect in rollover collisions.

  • Vehicle Instability: Vehicles should not roll over on flat pavement and must be designed to withstand sudden steering or turn maneuvers. Vehicle design can cause roll over due to instability.
  • Roof Crush: Occupants should not be crushed by a collapsing roof in a rollover. To save money, some manufacturers have changed this equation by reducing roof strength.
  • Occupant Ejection: Reinforced safety glass and adequate restraint systems will prevent rollover ejections.

Component Failures

  • Tires: Tires have a useful life of only six years. (See this blog.) This includes never used tires with perfect tread just off the showroom shelf. Old, aged, and used tires are a common cause of blow-outs and tire detreads.
  • Child Safety Seats: Poor installation of child safety seats is common and dangerous. These seats should be designed for easy installation and run through rigorous safety testing.
  • Seat Back Failure/Collapse: Seats sometimes collapse rearward during a collision. The dangers to anyone sitting behind these seats is obvious.

Whenever an enhanced injury is suspected, a lawyer should be consulted to determine if the injury was caused by a defect. It is critically important that the vehicle be preserved and quickly inspected by an expert, so do not allow the insurance company to take the car and sell it for salvage. Also, do not settle with any party without consulting wiht a lawyer first.

(Special thanks to Langdon & Emison for much of the content in this blog)

Contact us at 866-785-GALE or by email to learn your legal rights.

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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