What is Crashworthiness
Vehicles sold in the United States should protect occupants from injury in moderate speed, foreseeable collisions and those which cannot are not “crashworthy”.
Insufficient crashworthiness is established by demonstrating that:
○ crash was of a kind that is expected to occur;
○ injuries were caused or enhanced by defective vehicle condition which failed to protect occupant; and
○ an alternative design existed which would have prevented or lessened injuries.
Because auto defect cases are not always readily apparent, any time a person is catastrophically injured in a motor vehicle accident a crashworthiness claim should be investigated.
The most frequently encountered crashworthiness claims involve tires, airbags, fuel tank design, rollover/roof crush/vehicle stability, seat design/restraints, child safety seats, or passenger vans.
Fuel Tank Design
If an occupant can survive the accident’s initial impact but suffers loss of life or significant burns in the resulting fire, a "fuel fed fire" case may exist. One type of case involves fuel tank placement within a vehicle’s known “crush zone” making it more susceptible to fuel leakage and resulting fire. Other potential defects include the design of the connection points that gas passes through while traveling through the vehicle like the design and location of the filler neck assembly connecting the gas cap to the tank.
It is common in accidents, such as where a vehicle strikes a tree or a pole, for airbags to fail to deploy. Some airbags are incredibly aggressive, deploying at speeds of 200 miles per hour causing head, neck and eye injuries. Some airbags deploy late in the accident sequence, after the occupant is already close to the airbag, or deploy in minor, low speed impacts, which would not have resulted in injury except for those relating to the airbag.
Rollover/Roof Crush/Vehicle Stability
Tall, narrow vehicles such as SUVs are especially prone to rollover, particularly after drivers make sudden steering changes. Recently manufactured vehicles should be equipped with Electronic Stability Control, an intelligent braking system assisting drivers in responding to sudden steering inputs minimizing the risk of loss of vehicular control.
Often in relatively moderate speed rear impacts, seatbacks will collapse, causing occupants to move rearward and strike the seat or persons in the rear of the vehicle. In more severe accidents where occupants are ejected from the vehicle, seatbelts may become unlatched, the seatbelt webbing can "payout" during an accident sequence, or seat tracks can fail. Seatbelts must be designed to fit as closely to the body as is possible and claims may be brought against vehicle and/or seatbelt manufacturers for designing belts failing to protect occupants.
A tire defect case may exist if there is a loss of vehicular control. Sometimes the association between loss of control and a tire condition is relatively easy to determine, like with blowouts. Tire mounting errors can also severely impair a driver's ability to control the vehicle.
Child Safety Seats
Any time a child riding in a carseat is seriously injured in a accident, there must be an evaluation as to whether or not the child seat contained any defects. Frequently seats become dislodged from bases, issues with the seatbelt or latch issues exist, or problems occur with which how the child seat "fits" in specific cars.
Because "15 passenger vans" have significant stability and handling problems exacerbated when fully occupied, a crashworthiness case must be investigated whenever an accident occurs.