A significant practice area for our firm involves automotive product liability claims. We have dedicated significant resources to those cases because of their importance. Many times those claims involve what is known as the crashworthiness doctrine. Automotive manufacturers are required to design crashworthy cars. The crashworthy doctrine recognizes that accidents are statistically inevitable and that the manufacturer has a duty to eliminate unreasonable risks and to provide reasonable protection to occupants in a collision.
We have seen this doctrine properly extended to non-automotive claims. For instance, a motorcycle or bicycle helmet must be “crashworthy” or able to protect the wearer from a reasonable impact to the helmet. If it doesn’t, the helmet may be defective under the crashworthiness doctrine.
Our firm is currently litigating a case involving an aircraft crash. In that case, a bird impacted the windscreen of the helicopter causing it to fail and resulted in the aircraft crashing. We will prove in the case that the windscreen wasn’t designed to protect the occupants from the foreseeable bird impact.
When dealing with the concept of crashworthiness, understanding the particular product in question is important. It may be impossible to protect against a foreseeable crash. A good example is the limitations jet engines have on bird impacts. We all are now aware as a result of the U.S. Air flight landing in the Hudson River that jet engines aren’t designed to be impacted by birds. Unlike engines, windscreens are and can easily be designed to protect occupants. Aircraft manufacturers and the manufacturers of aircraft component parts have a duty to make these parts crashworthy where reasonable.