Over the next few months, we will include a series of articles in the Report discussing product liability claims arising out of single vehicle accidents. As our lawyers in the firm’s Personal Injury Section know, a product liability claim focuses on whether or not a product is defective. The purpose of this series will be to inform our readers of the different kinds of product liability claims that are out there on a recurring basis. In automobile cases, the defective product could be the entire vehicle, or it could be a component part such as the seat belt or tires. Unfortunately, the average motorist has no idea how unprotected he or she will be in a crash as a driver or passenger in a defective vehicle. Our lawyers are trained to recognize defect claims in motor vehicle accident cases and that’s essential to representing clients in that field. Any single vehicle accident involving serious injury or death, including paralysis, loss of limb or brain damage, should be carefully analyzed for potential product liability claims. This week we will take a look at “roof crush” defects.
To protect occupants in a rollover, maintaining survival space is very important. Survival space is the space around an occupant that remains free of intrusion in an accident. It is the area in which an occupant is able to “survive” the crash. A roof is part of the structural support of a vehicle and is therefore a critical component in keeping the occupant safe. If a roof crushes substantially during an accident, from a failure of the side rails, headers or support pillars, catastrophic injuries can occur. Often, this decreased survival space results in some portion of the vehicle impacting the occupant’s head causing death, paralysis or brain damage. Sometimes, the occupant can even be partially ejected through an opening created during roof crush. In a single vehicle accident, where the roof of a vehicle deforms, crushes, or opens over the occupant’s head by deforming sideways, there may be a roof crush defect.
Our firm recently reached a settlement with Ford Motor Company involving the rollover of a Ford F450 Super Duty truck in Clarke County, Alabama. We represented the family of a young man who was riding as a front seat passenger in the truck while on his way to work in the timber business. Due to foggy conditions that morning, the driver of the truck allowed one of the tires of the vehicle to drop off the shoulder of the roadway. When he brought the truck back on the roadway it overturned two times. Although the truck was only travelling 40 miles per hour at the time it rolled over, there was substantial intrusion of the roof structure into the occupant compartment of the truck. The roof structure caved in on our clients’ son causing him to suffer a burst fracture of his cervical spine. Unfortunately, the young man was paralyzed and died about ten days following the accident.
The Ford Super Duty truck series consists of the F250, F350, and F450 trucks. We actually cut the roof off of one of these trucks and found that the roof is not so “super.” Most of the support structures of the roof on the Super Duty consist of open sections made of low-strength steel. We also cut the roof off of a Ford F150 truck to compare the two roof structures. Surprisingly, we found that the F150 roof structures included closed, box sections. Some of these were made of high-strength steel. The only explanation we could find for the differences in these two vehicles (which to the naked eye appear identical) is that the F150 has to meet the NHTSA federal safety standard for roof crush whereas the F250/F350/F450 trucks don’t have to meet the standard. This is primarily due to the weight difference in the trucks. But, there is nothing preventing Ford or any other manufacturer from voluntarily subjecting these trucks to the federal standard. Good safety practices certainly require it.
Our firm routinely reviews all automobile accidents involving serious injury or death, including paralysis, loss of limb or brain damage to determine if there is a defective roof. If you would like more information or have a question, you can contact Cole Portis or Greg Allen at 800-898-2034, or by email at Cole.Portis@beasleyallen.com or Greg.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
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