Our firm has learned over the years that a products liability case can sometimes be overlooked in a motor vehicle crash unless you know what to look for and how to detect a potential claim.
It’s sometimes easy to miss such a case unless an experienced lawyer and qualified investigators and experts are involved early on after a motor vehicle crash occurs.
Many times the crash is blamed on driver error, and the products liability claim is never even looked into. It’s been my experience that any highway crash that involves death or serious injuries should be reviewed to see whether in fact there is a crashworthiness claim or some other claim that has a product defect as a cause.
Of course, a serious injury in this context means one involving severe brain injury, paralysis, or some other injury that leaves a victim with permanent impairment at a significant level.
There are all sorts of products liability cases involving motor vehicle crashes, and I am limiting this writing to those events. Any time a crash involves a roll over or a tire separation, the investigation should include the possibility of a products case. The same rule of thumb applies if a fuel-fed fire is the culprit. Also, if there is a failure of a seat belt to restrain an occupant in either the front or back seats of the vehicle, you should definitely look to determine whether that event caused an injury or death.
If there is a roof crush or a deformation of the roof in a lateral movement, it is likely that there is a defect involved. We have found that a significant number of vehicles – especially pickups – have roof structure problems. There can also be problems with airbags that don’t deploy properly or late or not at all.
On crashworthiness cases, remember that the front occupant compartment is referred to as the “safety cage” by most manufacturers and for a reason. The safety cage should protect front seat occupants in nearly all highway speed crashes. We have had cases in which companies intentionally weakened the safety cage by design decisions that put profits over safety. One company actually had a program called the 2500 program that had nothing to do with safety.
As it turned out, we learned in a case involving a two-vehicle highway crash that the 2500 referred to dollars. That company was taking $2,500 worth of “mass” out of each vehicle sold, and the reductions made were all safety features that were weakened. For example, the side rails were cut back in length and the “shot gun rail” was made out of weaker steel. The door rails were reduced in size, making them totally ineffective in a side impact or an offset frontal impact. The company didn’t reduce the sales price of the vehicle and pocketed the vast amounts it saved as a result of the so-called 2500 project.
Never assume that just because a vehicle has met a NHTSA safety standard, the vehicle is safe. For example, an aluminum pool chair meets the strength requirements of FMVSS 213. The minimum standards that automobile manufacturers have to meet – as promulgated by NHTSA – are oftentimes very weak and don’t satisfy the design engineering standards in the industry.
The companies know this, and as a result, many vehicles are made and sold that have a defective component of some kind that put people using the highways at great risk for injury or death.