Case analysis

Auto Products Liability – Crashworthiness.

Crashworthiness cases involve the allegation that a vehicle manufacturer did not take precautions to reduce the injuries resulting from a foreseeable crash. The vehicle is defective if it is designed or manufactured in such a way that the injuries the driver or passengers sustained in a crash are greater than the injuries normally expected in that type of crash.

An auto products liability lawyer helps those injured or killed from vehicle defects or defective auto parts by holding the vehicle manufacturer accountable. Vehicles and their parts are meant to be designed to protect us, not kill us, or make injuries worse.

The facts in this case

Our client was driving to work and came to a stop at a red-light. Behind him, the driver of a midsize pick-up truck failed to see the red light and drove into the back of our client’s vehicle. Despite wearing his seatbelt and the impact being relatively moderate, our client suffered injuries to his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed. This was puzzling because the driver of the pick-up truck walked away from the crash uninjured. It was noted that the our client’s seat back had collapsed and failed rearward during the impact. Thus, it was suspected that there was a defect with the driver’s seat back.

Evidence preservation and analysis

Any potential auto products (crashworthiness) case requires immediate action to take the necessary steps to preserve critical evidence. This can include: any vehicles involved in the accident; documenting the crash scene with photographs and measurements; and obtaining witness statements. Without the preservation of the vehicle, it is virtually impossible to successfully pursue an auto products liability case. Also, it is critical to gather all of the medical records to study the exact cause of the injuries.

Experts must be hired to perform an accident reconstruction which will determine the speeds of the vehicles on impact. Crash data recorders from both vehicles must be downloaded and their data analyzed.  Also, an expert in automotive design must examine the vehicles. In our client’s case, this examination revealed the  seat back collapse, as it was laying flat after the impact. A seat back should not collapse like this. Medical doctors and a bio-mechanical engineer investigated whether the paralyzing spinal cord injuries were caused by the seat back’s collapse. They also investigated whether the injuries could have been prevented had the seat back not collapsed.

It was discovered that, when the seat back collapsed, our client slid rearward from underneath his seatbelt into the rear seat. As a result, he struck his upper torso and back on the rear seat, causing injury to his spinal cord.

Filing the lawsuit and discovery

The following steps were completed prior to filing the lawsuit against the manufacturer of the vehicle and the seat: a crash reconstruction was completed; the defect in the vehicle identified; and, the cause of our client’s injuries were determined to be related to the seat back collapse.

Throughout the lawsuit, extensive examinations of the seat were undertaken to determine the exact mechanism of failure. In conjunction with the lawyers and experts from the manufacturer of the vehicle, the driver’s seat was removed from the vehicle and its components studied under microscopic and x-ray analysis in the laboratory.

It was established that components in the recliner mechanism of the seat had broken and sheared apart. These were metal components, so we retained the services of a metallurgist from the University of Pennsylvania. The metallurgist studied the material characteristics of these components and why they broke. The components that broke were the load-bearing parts of the recliner mechanisms. The recliner mechanisms are the parts responsible for keeping the seat back in the proper upright position during a rear impact. If they fail to perform this function, the seat collapses rearward. Furthermore, the seatbelt is no longer capable of restraining the occupant, and the occupant can then be placed into a position vulnerable to injury.

An auto products seat defect case requires extensive discovery and research. For example: the design of seats specific to the manufacturer’s vehicle must be researched; the seat manufacturer’s design of the specific seating system must be analyzed; and, their knowledge of other collapsing seats in rear impacts understood. Quite often, internal manufacturer documents and test results reveal the problem, as well as knowledge that the seat back can collapse.

Proving liability and reaching settlement

Seats from other manufacturers were studied to determine two things: was their design safer and, would they have collapsed in a similar crash. A test called a “sled test” was performed. This is where the seat from our client’s vehicle was used alongside a safer, stronger seat from a different manufacturer but tested under the same conditions. It was demonstrated that our client’s seat collapsed while the other manufacturers’ seats remained upright. As a result, the upright seats kept the crash test dummy in its seat and safe from injury.

It was important to work with experts to study what our client’s needs would be into the future. They included, treating physicians, spinal cord experts, life care planners, and economists . This study extends beyond medical needs. It also takes into account the care required to help keep our client healthy, help him with daily activities, and, hopefully, some day return to some kind of work.

After the completion of discovery, the exchange of expert reports, and shortly before trial, the court held a settlement conference. Previous settlement negotiations had occurred throughout the case, however, they did not prove fruitful. At this final settlement conference, we were able to obtain a settlement that our client accepted and would take care of his future.

Our client was a fighter, and was never one to give up. In fact, since his paralysis, he has completed several triathlons.

Crashworthiness: How your car should protect you

Crashworthiness is a kind of auto products liability case that arises when a vehicle fails to provide reasonable crash protection. An auto products liability lawyer helps those injured or killed from vehicle defects or defective auto parts by holding the vehicle manufacturer accountable. Vehicles and their parts are meant to be designed to protect us, not kill us, or make injuries worse.

Even in a crashworthiness case, there is almost always some person at fault for the crash; perhaps even the person who was injured. However, since the 1960’s, safety law recognizes the duty of vehicle manufacturers to provide reasonable crash protection. This safety law has led to many safety innovations including: seatbelts; airbags; rollover stability control; and, collision avoidance technologies such as automatic emergency braking.

Some common examples of crashworthiness or auto products liability cases include: post collision fuel fed fires; airbags; seatbelts; seat back collapse; rollover; roof crush; tire failure; and, child safety seats. Some of the more well-known safety related defects include: exploding Takata Airbags; GM ignition switches; Firestone Tires; Ford Explorer Rollovers;  Toyota unintended acceleration; and, one of the very first crashworthiness cases, the Ford Pinto.

Other types of auto products liability cases include: failure to equip vehicles with safety systems or technology when available. For example: not installing rollover airbags; electronic stability control; automatic emergency braking; forward collision warning; lane keep assist; or, lane departure warning.

Safety is not an option: hire an experienced auto products liability lawyer

Many manufacturers have ignored vehicle crashworthiness and safety technologies, often putting profits over safety. When there is a motor vehicle accident and the resulting injuries are more severe than expected given the facts of the accident, then the possibility of crashworthiness should be considered.

If the injuries are significant, it is important to conduct a thorough investigation. This will determine whether  those injuries were the result of a vehicle design or manufacture defect, rather than the natural consequences of the collision.

Read more case analyses Contact us today