Safety and Health Reporter
Brien Roche Law > Blog > Personal Injury > Product Liability and Auto Injury

Product Liability and Auto Injury

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Product Liability and Auto Injury

Brien Roche

Product Defects in Autos

Rollover injuries continue to be a problem with many vehicles The doctrine of crashworthiness is a component of product liability law which  was developed many years ago and is based upon the duty of auto manufacturers to protect occupants in foreseeable crashes.  The nature of the vehicle defects that may contribute to the injury of passengers in rollover cases are such things as inadequate roof and pillar strength, seat belts that unlatch, seat belts that do not properly hold the occupant, door latches and locks that fail allowing ejection of the passenger, lack of proper glazing of windows in the vehicle in order to keep occupants inside and finally lack of airbags that can prevent ejection.

A common culprit in these rollover cases is the 15 passenger van.  These vehicles were originally designed to carry cargo.  They are classified neither as passenger cars nor as school buses and as such are exempt from some federal standards.  When these vehicles became popular as passenger vehicles the manufacturers simply took the existing frame and added seating, windows and other elements to the vehicle.  The evidence has shown that these 15 passenger vans, in general, have a considerably higher rollover risk than do other light trucks or vans.  In particular, when the 15 passenger vans have 10 or more passengers then the rollover rate in single vehicle crashes is nearly three times the rate of those that were lightly loaded.

In looking at any rollover case there are several factors to be considered:

  • Roof crush.  The entire roof structure of any vehicle should be designed as a safety cage that will create a survival space for occupants.In evaluating roof crush it is important to determine if the testing done by the manufacturer reflects the dynamic forces in an actual rollover and did the testing account for the fact that the windshield frequently breaks before the roof collapses thereby dramatically reducing roof strength.
  • Seat belts.  Seat belts need to be 3 point belts containing both lap and shoulder components.  The restraint system should function to keep the passenger in the seat and away from the roof’s interior components and also to  prevent ejection.
  • Window glazing.   Laminated safety glass is proven to prevent passenger ejections.
  • Door latches.  The purpose of these door latches is to keep the doors closed so that passengers cannot be ejected.
  • Padding.  Padding is necessary as part of the roof component to provide protection should the occupant’s head strike the upper interior area.  Padding is also necessary around support pillars, side rails and in general has been shown to be  highly effective in reducing injuries.
  • Side curtain air bags.  Side curtain air bags are designed to stay inflated during  a rollover for six seconds or longer while the vehicle is actually rolling.

Rollover injuries due to high center of gravity are most common with 15-passenger vans, certain sport utility vehicles and certain types of Jeeps reports accident lawyer Brien Roche.  Ford Motor is the leader in the 15-passenger van category.  When designing the van, Ford considered different configurations but opted to simply add another 20 inches to the back of the van for another seat.  This had the effect of increasing capacity load and putting additional rear overhang behind the rear axle.  The net effect of that was to move the van’s center of gravity up and rearward.  Ford’s own documents indicate that its engineers considered different designs that would have been superior to this approach.

In particular, these types of vehicles become more prone to instability when they are loaded with 10 or more passengers and/or loaded with cargo in particular cargo that may be strapped to the roof.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that vans with 10 or more passengers were in fact three times more likely to roll over than vans with fewer than 10 passengers.  This same study indicated that, the 15-passenger van, when loaded to full capacity the rear tire bore over 65% of the vehicle’s weight.

Whether dealing with the 15-passenger van, a sport utility vehicle or certain jeeps the key is to lower the center of gravity.  In regards to the 15-passenger van, the most straight forward alternative is the addition of dual rear wheels which not only reduce the likelihood of loss of tire pressure on the real wheels but also reduce the overall center of gravity.

In regards to its passenger vehicles, Ford Motor has admitted that these vehicles must be designed to be safe and predictable even in the most severe accident-avoidance situations and that its vehicles are designed to forgive or, in extreme situations, to slide out rather than to roll over on flat level pavement.

The ongoing failure of many manufacturers to conform with the basic need for a lower center of gravity may be a basis for liability.

For more information on rollover injuries see the other page on this site dealing with that topic.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a number of different regulations dealing with some of these issues.

Automobile Safety Data

Automobile safety data is now more available due to the excellent work of a motor vehicle safety advocate in Massachusetts by the name of Sean Kane.  Mr. Kane and his colleague have developed the Vehicle Safety Information Resource Center (VSIRC) which is a massive database of motor vehicle safety records and documents from a host of entities including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

This database contains four basic categories of information including information about recalls, defects and investigations, consumer complaints and also crash compliance tests.

Within this database the user can research for a particular year, make or model and will also receive results for all substantially similar vehicles.  For instance, if your focus is on one particular model the VSIRC will also retrieve information on what are called model twins even though they may be made by a different manufacturer.

This database takes a great deal of the mystery out of searching the governmental websites, many of which are coded in such a way that unless you are familiar with the coding process you will never get a complete picture relating to any particular vehicle or issue.

See Vehicle Accident  and Car Accident litigation section of our site for more information on auto accidents.

Product Liability and Auto Injury Seen In Tire Defects

Tire defect cases require a knowledge of how tires are made. Any accident lawyer who handles auto crashes needs to be sensitive to the possibility of a tire defect contributing to the collision which may give rise to an independent product liability claim.

In any tire defect case the first step is to determine who is the manufacturer.  If this is not readily apparent from the remains of the tire, then some investigation needs to be done.  The Department of Transportation Number is normally on the tire on the axle side.  A manual known as Who Makes It and Where is available in most tire stores and will tell you who the manufacturer is based upon the Department of Transportation number.  This number will also tell you the plant where the tire was made and the date when the tire was manufactured.

A steel belted radial tire has several components consisting of the inner lining,two polyester body plies,two steel belts,two bead reinforcing strips,the sidewall rubber and a tread.These components are assembled in their uncured state and then are subjected to a vulcanization process involving extreme heat and pressure.

The different causes of tire failure are:

  • Tread separation.  Typically the top steel belt and tread become detached from the rest of the tire.
  • Sidewall failure.  A sidewall failure consisting of a hole or a split in the sidewall of the tire is frequently caused by underinflation or contact with a sharp object.  If that is the case, then this may be a difficult matter to proceed with.
  • Bead failures.  The bead is the part of the tire that comes in contact with the wheel.  It acts as an anchor holding the tire to the rim.
  • Ozone cracking.  This manifests itself by small cracks or breaks on the surface of the rubber.  This is frequently the result of manufacturer negligence.

Within the industry it is recognized that tires more than six years old present an increased risk. A manufacturer’s failure to warn of this may itself be a basis for liability.

Product Liability and Auto Injury Seen In Seat Belt Defects

Seat belt injury claims received a bit of a boost from the U. S. Supreme Court on February 23, 2011 when the Court ruled that a California case against Mazda, claiming that Mazda was liable for installing lap belts instead of lap and shoulder belts in its 1993 MPV minivan, could proceed.  The Court said that a federal regulation that allows auto manufacturers to elect what type of seat belt to install in minivans does not protect them from being sued if they pick one that is less safe.

In 1989 the Department of Transportation said that lap and shoulder belts were required for minivan front seats and rear outer seats but that companies had a choice of which belt to install for the rear middle and aisle seats.  These regulations were subsequently changed in 2007 to require lap and shoulder belts for all seats.  In this Mazda case the Supreme Court said that the Department of Transportation’s main reason for not requiring lap and shoulder belts was the cost factor.  The Court attempted to distinguish this case from the Geier case wherein it barred lawsuits over a car maker’s decision not to install airbags  in favor of some other restraining device.  Mazda in this case argued that to allow this suit to go forward would, in effect, deprive it of the choice of lap belts versus lap and shoulder belts.

A concurring opinion in this case cited the Safety Act which expressly states that compliance with a motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter does not create an exemption from liability.

Power Window Injuries

Power windows injuries involving children have been known to kill and injure children.  Having an attorney who is experienced with these types of product liability claims is critical.  The flaw in many of these types of windows is that the manufacturers install rocker or toggle switches which can then be contacted by a child who is sticking his or  her head out the window causing the window then to activate and go up.

There are several design changes that have been known to manufacturers for years that can easily eliminate that hazard:

  • putting the window switches on a center console
  • using recessed switches
  • installing an auto-reverse safety mechanism like what exists with elevator doors

In handling a claim like this several things are important:

  • the vehicle must be preserved
  • all family members and witnesses must be thoroughly interviewed
  • police reports must be obtained
  • the vehicle must be thoroughly inspected and photographed.

Auto Glass Defects

Auto glass defects cause injuries in failing to contain passengers and in allowing glass to become a projectile according to accident lawyer Brien Roche. Many side and rear windows and sunroofs  in motor vehicles are made of tempered glass.Tempered glass is different than laminated glass in that the tempered glass when it breaks it shatters and can become  flying instruments of death within a motor vehicle.  A laminated piece of glass however, when it breaks, tends to stay in place.  Front windshields on vehicles are now mandated to be made of laminated glass.  The importance of laminated glass is that not only does it not become a mechanism of further injury but it also serves to contain the occupants within the vehicle.  Occupants who remain inside the vehicle during an impact tend not to suffer the same traumatic injuries as those that are projected through the window opening.

The cost of providing side and rear windows with laminated glass is not excessive.  It is estimated to be approximately $1o0.00 per vehicle.  There is substantial government and private industry testing that shows the benefits of laminated glass.

Indeed, laminated glass was widely used back in the 1970’s and 1980’s on a number of American made vehicles.  In addition, the suppliers of laminated glass have long espoused the need for it in motor vehicles.

The argument to be made for laminated glass is the common sense notion that passengers in motor vehicles in the course of an  impact should not be exposed to jagged pieces of glass flying around in the interior of the vehicle.

If  you have been injured as a result of the lack of laminated glass in a vehicle that you are riding in, contact us.

For more information on product liability see the pages on Wikipedia.

Comments are closed.

Contact Us For A Free Consultation

Product Liability and Auto Injury

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Product Liability and Auto Injury

Brien Roche

Product Defects in Autos

Rollover injuries continue to be a problem with many vehicles The doctrine of crashworthiness is a component of product liability law which  was developed many years ago and is based upon the duty of auto manufacturers to protect occupants in foreseeable crashes.  The nature of the vehicle defects that may contribute to the injury of passengers in rollover cases are such things as inadequate roof and pillar strength, seat belts that unlatch, seat belts that do not properly hold the occupant, door latches and locks that fail allowing ejection of the passenger, lack of proper glazing of windows in the vehicle in order to keep occupants inside and finally lack of airbags that can prevent ejection.

A common culprit in these rollover cases is the 15 passenger van.  These vehicles were originally designed to carry cargo.  They are classified neither as passenger cars nor as school buses and as such are exempt from some federal standards.  When these vehicles became popular as passenger vehicles the manufacturers simply took the existing frame and added seating, windows and other elements to the vehicle.  The evidence has shown that these 15 passenger vans, in general, have a considerably higher rollover risk than do other light trucks or vans.  In particular, when the 15 passenger vans have 10 or more passengers then the rollover rate in single vehicle crashes is nearly three times the rate of those that were lightly loaded.

In looking at any rollover case there are several factors to be considered:

  • Roof crush.  The entire roof structure of any vehicle should be designed as a safety cage that will create a survival space for occupants.In evaluating roof crush it is important to determine if the testing done by the manufacturer reflects the dynamic forces in an actual rollover and did the testing account for the fact that the windshield frequently breaks before the roof collapses thereby dramatically reducing roof strength.
  • Seat belts.  Seat belts need to be 3 point belts containing both lap and shoulder components.  The restraint system should function to keep the passenger in the seat and away from the roof’s interior components and also to  prevent ejection.
  • Window glazing.   Laminated safety glass is proven to prevent passenger ejections.
  • Door latches.  The purpose of these door latches is to keep the doors closed so that passengers cannot be ejected.
  • Padding.  Padding is necessary as part of the roof component to provide protection should the occupant’s head strike the upper interior area.  Padding is also necessary around support pillars, side rails and in general has been shown to be  highly effective in reducing injuries.
  • Side curtain air bags.  Side curtain air bags are designed to stay inflated during  a rollover for six seconds or longer while the vehicle is actually rolling.

Rollover injuries due to high center of gravity are most common with 15-passenger vans, certain sport utility vehicles and certain types of Jeeps reports accident lawyer Brien Roche.  Ford Motor is the leader in the 15-passenger van category.  When designing the van, Ford considered different configurations but opted to simply add another 20 inches to the back of the van for another seat.  This had the effect of increasing capacity load and putting additional rear overhang behind the rear axle.  The net effect of that was to move the van’s center of gravity up and rearward.  Ford’s own documents indicate that its engineers considered different designs that would have been superior to this approach.

In particular, these types of vehicles become more prone to instability when they are loaded with 10 or more passengers and/or loaded with cargo in particular cargo that may be strapped to the roof.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that vans with 10 or more passengers were in fact three times more likely to roll over than vans with fewer than 10 passengers.  This same study indicated that, the 15-passenger van, when loaded to full capacity the rear tire bore over 65% of the vehicle’s weight.

Whether dealing with the 15-passenger van, a sport utility vehicle or certain jeeps the key is to lower the center of gravity.  In regards to the 15-passenger van, the most straight forward alternative is the addition of dual rear wheels which not only reduce the likelihood of loss of tire pressure on the real wheels but also reduce the overall center of gravity.

In regards to its passenger vehicles, Ford Motor has admitted that these vehicles must be designed to be safe and predictable even in the most severe accident-avoidance situations and that its vehicles are designed to forgive or, in extreme situations, to slide out rather than to roll over on flat level pavement.

The ongoing failure of many manufacturers to conform with the basic need for a lower center of gravity may be a basis for liability.

For more information on rollover injuries see the other page on this site dealing with that topic.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a number of different regulations dealing with some of these issues.

Automobile Safety Data

Automobile safety data is now more available due to the excellent work of a motor vehicle safety advocate in Massachusetts by the name of Sean Kane.  Mr. Kane and his colleague have developed the Vehicle Safety Information Resource Center (VSIRC) which is a massive database of motor vehicle safety records and documents from a host of entities including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

This database contains four basic categories of information including information about recalls, defects and investigations, consumer complaints and also crash compliance tests.

Within this database the user can research for a particular year, make or model and will also receive results for all substantially similar vehicles.  For instance, if your focus is on one particular model the VSIRC will also retrieve information on what are called model twins even though they may be made by a different manufacturer.

This database takes a great deal of the mystery out of searching the governmental websites, many of which are coded in such a way that unless you are familiar with the coding process you will never get a complete picture relating to any particular vehicle or issue.

See Vehicle Accident  and Car Accident litigation section of our site for more information on auto accidents.

Product Liability and Auto Injury Seen In Tire Defects

Tire defect cases require a knowledge of how tires are made. Any accident lawyer who handles auto crashes needs to be sensitive to the possibility of a tire defect contributing to the collision which may give rise to an independent product liability claim.

In any tire defect case the first step is to determine who is the manufacturer.  If this is not readily apparent from the remains of the tire, then some investigation needs to be done.  The Department of Transportation Number is normally on the tire on the axle side.  A manual known as Who Makes It and Where is available in most tire stores and will tell you who the manufacturer is based upon the Department of Transportation number.  This number will also tell you the plant where the tire was made and the date when the tire was manufactured.

A steel belted radial tire has several components consisting of the inner lining,two polyester body plies,two steel belts,two bead reinforcing strips,the sidewall rubber and a tread.These components are assembled in their uncured state and then are subjected to a vulcanization process involving extreme heat and pressure.

The different causes of tire failure are:

  • Tread separation.  Typically the top steel belt and tread become detached from the rest of the tire.
  • Sidewall failure.  A sidewall failure consisting of a hole or a split in the sidewall of the tire is frequently caused by underinflation or contact with a sharp object.  If that is the case, then this may be a difficult matter to proceed with.
  • Bead failures.  The bead is the part of the tire that comes in contact with the wheel.  It acts as an anchor holding the tire to the rim.
  • Ozone cracking.  This manifests itself by small cracks or breaks on the surface of the rubber.  This is frequently the result of manufacturer negligence.

Within the industry it is recognized that tires more than six years old present an increased risk. A manufacturer’s failure to warn of this may itself be a basis for liability.

Product Liability and Auto Injury Seen In Seat Belt Defects

Seat belt injury claims received a bit of a boost from the U. S. Supreme Court on February 23, 2011 when the Court ruled that a California case against Mazda, claiming that Mazda was liable for installing lap belts instead of lap and shoulder belts in its 1993 MPV minivan, could proceed.  The Court said that a federal regulation that allows auto manufacturers to elect what type of seat belt to install in minivans does not protect them from being sued if they pick one that is less safe.

In 1989 the Department of Transportation said that lap and shoulder belts were required for minivan front seats and rear outer seats but that companies had a choice of which belt to install for the rear middle and aisle seats.  These regulations were subsequently changed in 2007 to require lap and shoulder belts for all seats.  In this Mazda case the Supreme Court said that the Department of Transportation’s main reason for not requiring lap and shoulder belts was the cost factor.  The Court attempted to distinguish this case from the Geier case wherein it barred lawsuits over a car maker’s decision not to install airbags  in favor of some other restraining device.  Mazda in this case argued that to allow this suit to go forward would, in effect, deprive it of the choice of lap belts versus lap and shoulder belts.

A concurring opinion in this case cited the Safety Act which expressly states that compliance with a motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter does not create an exemption from liability.

Power Window Injuries

Power windows injuries involving children have been known to kill and injure children.  Having an attorney who is experienced with these types of product liability claims is critical.  The flaw in many of these types of windows is that the manufacturers install rocker or toggle switches which can then be contacted by a child who is sticking his or  her head out the window causing the window then to activate and go up.

There are several design changes that have been known to manufacturers for years that can easily eliminate that hazard:

  • putting the window switches on a center console
  • using recessed switches
  • installing an auto-reverse safety mechanism like what exists with elevator doors

In handling a claim like this several things are important:

  • the vehicle must be preserved
  • all family members and witnesses must be thoroughly interviewed
  • police reports must be obtained
  • the vehicle must be thoroughly inspected and photographed.

Auto Glass Defects

Auto glass defects cause injuries in failing to contain passengers and in allowing glass to become a projectile according to accident lawyer Brien Roche. Many side and rear windows and sunroofs  in motor vehicles are made of tempered glass.Tempered glass is different than laminated glass in that the tempered glass when it breaks it shatters and can become  flying instruments of death within a motor vehicle.  A laminated piece of glass however, when it breaks, tends to stay in place.  Front windshields on vehicles are now mandated to be made of laminated glass.  The importance of laminated glass is that not only does it not become a mechanism of further injury but it also serves to contain the occupants within the vehicle.  Occupants who remain inside the vehicle during an impact tend not to suffer the same traumatic injuries as those that are projected through the window opening.

The cost of providing side and rear windows with laminated glass is not excessive.  It is estimated to be approximately $1o0.00 per vehicle.  There is substantial government and private industry testing that shows the benefits of laminated glass.

Indeed, laminated glass was widely used back in the 1970’s and 1980’s on a number of American made vehicles.  In addition, the suppliers of laminated glass have long espoused the need for it in motor vehicles.

The argument to be made for laminated glass is the common sense notion that passengers in motor vehicles in the course of an  impact should not be exposed to jagged pieces of glass flying around in the interior of the vehicle.

If  you have been injured as a result of the lack of laminated glass in a vehicle that you are riding in, contact us.

For more information on product liability see the pages on Wikipedia.

Contact Us For A Free Consultation

Contact Us For A Free Consultation