On average, over 6 million automobile crashes occur in the United States every year, causing more than 3 million injuries and over 30,000 deaths per year. Often when approached with a car crash case, personal injury attorneys will focus solely on the issue of another driver’s negligence in causing the crash. However, such claims are often limited to the applicable insurance limits for the at fault driver. In Minnesota, these limits can be as little as $30,000 by law.
When someone is seriously injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash, focusing solely on driver negligence ignores the possibility there was a defect in one of the automobiles involved in the crash that either caused the crash to occur or worsened the injuries suffered by those involved. For example, a faulty fuel line can turn a relatively minor crash into a vehicle fire with tragic consequences.
Injuries can occur when companies make design decisions that compromise user safety in the name of increased profits or a mistake in the manufacturing or distribution of the product can lead to a failure of the product. Another way a product can be considered defective is if it does not have adequate warnings associated with the use of the product. Automobile manufacturers owe a duty of due care to consumers. When that duty is not fulfilled, the manufacturer may be held liable for the injuries caused by the dangerous automobile.
Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) have become very popular among consumers because they are versatile family vehicles. SUVs can also be more dangerous than other passenger vehicles due to their high centers of gravity and increased power. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, SUV rollover crashes constitute 31% of all the fatalities that occur, even though they only account for 3% of vehicle collisions. One of the main factors behind this statistic is the failure of automotive manufacturers to design these vehicles with strong roofs and support structures to prevent deformation of the occupant compartment. When the roof crushes or the occupant compartment deforms, it can cause occupants to strike the ground during a rollover or be completely or partially ejected from the vehicle causing serious injury or death.
Seat belts and airbags are designed to protect people in the event of a crash. However, when they malfunction or are poorly designed, they can cause serious injury or death. Automobile manufacturers have known for decades that combination lap and shoulder belts (3 point restraint) are safer than lap belts only (2 point restraints). 3 point restraints were finally mandated by law in the United States in all seating positions in 2007; however there are still thousands of vehicles on the road that are equipped with lap belts. Lap belts are not only less effective in most crashes but can actually cause injury to the occupant in a crash. Other types of restraint design errors or malfunctions can also cause unnecessary injuries or death.
Airbags can fail to deploy in a crash or deploy with too much force causing injury or death instead of protecting the occupant in a crash. In some cases, vehicles are manufactured without reasonable safety features, like side curtain airbags, years after manufacturers knew that such features should be included in vehicles to protect consumers. The failure to equip a vehicle with safety features can be a basis for a product liability claim against the manufacturer.
An occupant should not survive a crash and then be burned alive from a fire in the vehicle. Many post-crash fires are caused by defects in the design or manufacture of the fuel system of the vehicle. Many people suffer horrific deaths every year in post-collision fuel fed fires after crashes where they were otherwise not injured or only suffered minor injuries. Post-collision fuel fed fires can be caused by a failure to incorporate basic safety devices like check valves or by improper fuel tank placement. Often the cost to implement a safer design, such as a check valve, can be a few cents per vehicle.
In some crashes your seat can fail rendering your seatbelt useless. If a seat back collapses backward in a rear impact crash, the occupant in that seat or those seated behind them can be severely injured. Likewise, crash forces can sometimes cause seats to come off their tracks leading to loss of effectiveness of the seat belt. More often than not, small children are seated in the rear seats and can be seriously injured when a front seat collapses in a crash and the person in that seat is thrown toward the children in the backseat. At first glance this may be viewed as a freak accident but vehicle and seat manufacturers have long ignored the dangers of weak seats in putting profits over the safety of their consumers.
It is critical that you seek representation immediately after such an injury and ensure that the product at issue is preserved as evidence. Many times if the product is not preserved in the condition it was in at the time of the injury, there is little chance at successfully pursuing a products liability claim. Product liability claims are very complex and it is important to consult with an attorney who is familiar with this specialized area of law.
If you or a loved one have been injured by an automobile that may have been defectively designed or manufactured or did not have adequate warnings, you may be eligible for compensation from the product manufacturer or seller.