Rollover Deaths & Catastrophic Injury Caused by Defective Auto Design
Rollover accidents are perhaps the most dangerous type of incident that a driver or passenger can experience. This type of accident will almost always result in serious injury or fatality. Rollover accidents do not simply happen without some sort of predicate. Oftentimes, this predicate is the defective design of the vehicle that makes it more prone to rollover. Those who have suffered injuries or damages as a result of a vehicle rollover may be able to obtain compensation and damages under a product liability theory of recovery.
What is a Rollover Accident?
A rollover occurs when a vehicle flips either onto its side or its roof. This can occur either as a result of impact or through vehicular maneuvers. Certain maneuvers, such as a double lane change, may cause the vehicle to rollover. Sometimes, this can occur due to driver error or malfeasance. For example, excessive speeding may precipitate a rollover. However, rollovers may also occur due to design defects in cars. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, SUVs are more prone to rollover than passenger cars because of their center of gravity. SUVs are taller and narrower than passenger cars which is a risk factor for a rollover. Pickup trucks have an even higher risk of rollover than do SUVs.
Design defects causing rollover accidents
The design defects that may cause a rollover could be a defective tire or faulty design or manufacturing. Vehicles that are overly top-heavy or that have weak roof structures can be more prone to rollover. In addition, certain design features in the car can make rollovers even more dangerous for a vehicle occupant than they already are. For example, a defective door latch can pop open during a rollover, magnifying the effect of the rollover. The roof may have been made with a material that cannot withstand a rollover. In any event, more than half of fatalities in SUV accidents are caused by vehicle rollovers. Every year, there are approximately a quarter of a million vehicle accidents that have a vehicle rollover.
Product Liability Theories
Car manufacturers may be held liable for damages and injuries caused by vehicle rollovers. There are several different type of product liability causes of action. The three primary theories of action are negligence, warranty and strict liability. All three of these theories could be applicable to vehicle rollovers. With regard to negligence, a plaintiff must prove that the manufacturer owed a duty to the plaintiff and breached that duty. Then the plaintiff must also show that the manufacturer was both the actual and proximate cause of the injury. Finally, the plaintiff must prove that they suffered actual injury. More likely, a plaintiff will be attempting to obtain recovery under the strict liability theory. This would be premised on the fact that there is a design defect in the vehicle. This would revolve around the showing that the vehicle was dangerous for its intended use and that the manufacturer could have made an alternate design that did not cost much more. This alternate design would have made the vehicle safer to operate. Manufacturers will almost always try to escape legal liability by arguing that the manner in which the driver was operating the vehicle was the cause of the injuries as opposed to any fault in design or action of the manufacturer.
Lawsuits against Manufacturers
There have been many lawsuits filed against auto manufacturers for vehicle rollovers. These lawsuits have been filed as both individual causes of action as well as large class action lawsuits. For example, in 2010, a Mississippi jury awarded $131 million to the family of Brian Cole, who was killed when his Ford Explorer rolled over in a one-car accident. Cole was a pitcher in the New York Mets organization at the time he was killed. The suit alleged that the Explorer was not suitable to be used as the family vehicle that it was marketed as because of its tendency to rollover. The suit also alleged that the vehicle was not crashworthy. The parties settled the suit before the jury could assess punitive damages. Some of the reason for the large jury award was that Cole was widely regarded to be a future major league star. The Ford Explorer is the most rollover-prone vehicle in existence. It is estimated that one in every 27 Explorers have had a rollover incident in which one or more occupant of a vehicle was killed. The numbers are even worse for the Ford Bronco as one in every 500 Broncos were involved in fatal rollovers.
Class action lawsuits and rollover death
There have also been large class action lawsuits brought on behalf of vehicles owners who had not been involved in an accident. These suits were premised on the fact that the vehicles did not retain their value because the rollover issues depressed the resale market for the vehicles. For example, in 2008, Ford settled a class action lawsuit brought by Explorer owners. Other automakers have faced class action suits for vehicles rollovers as well.
Those who have suffered injury in a vehicle rollover or their families should contact a lawyer to discuss their legal options. It is important to know that not only can the car manufacturer be found liable, but others may be as well. Product liability law holds that anyone that is in the “stream of commerce” may be found liable. This expands the potential liability parties to those who manufactured the auto parts as well as the dealer that sold the vehicle. Plaintiffs can recover for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and loss of consortium. In addition, in egregious cases, those found liable for vehicle rollovers may be subject to punitive damages. Manufacturers usually vigorously contest these cases and will use every argument at their disposal to escape liability. Oftentimes, they will make an issue of the plaintiff’s driving or the fact they were not wearing a seatbelt. Thus, it is important to have experienced legal counsel to represent one’s legal interests.