The handling of product liability lawsuits involving defective automobile design requires a working knowledge of a principle referred to as crashworthiness. Vehicle crashworthiness is the science of focusing on protecting occupants involved in frontal, side, rear and rollover accident events through the utilization of various safety systems and safety principles. In simple terms, crashworthiness is the ability of a vehicle to protect occupants in a crash. The concept of crashworthiness include:
• Minimizing crush to maintain survival space;
• Providing proper restraint throughout the entire accident event;
• Preventing ejection from the vehicle and nominal seating positions;
• Distributing energy and dissipating crash forces; and
• Preventing post-crash fires.
Crashworthiness safety systems must work together to provide adequate occupant protection throughout an entire accident. These safety systems can be compared to safety links in a chain. If one link fails, the safety chain has failed. It should be noted that crashworthiness safety systems do not prevent accidents from occurring. Instead, they prevent and minimize the risks of serious injury or death once an accident has occurred. If all crashes could be eliminated, there would be no need for safety systems that help prevent or minimize injuries after a crash has happened. In a products liability case involving an automobile, there is a distinction between the cause of an accident as opposed to the cause of an injury. This is a distinction that lawyers, who don’t handle product liability cases on a regular basis, fail to comprehend. Unfortunately, there are a few judges who don’t either.
Whether a vehicle was designed with features to ensure the safety of its occupants in a foreseeable highway crash requires an investigation of the vehicles’ crashworthiness. The vehicle’s safety cage is an important part of the vehicle’s crashworthiness.
In the event of a collision, the vehicle safety cage protects occupants by maintaining survival space and dissipating collision forces that the occupants would be exposed to otherwise. Safety cages work in conjunction with seatbelts and airbags to slow occupants during the longest possible time and distribute crash forces across the largest area possible. When these systems function correctly, they effectively decrease the loads exerted upon occupants in a crash and reduce the likelihood of injury.
In addition to being designed to provide protection, vehicle safety cages are also integral to the handling characteristics and fuel efficiency of a vehicle. By selectively incorporating higher strength materials throughout the design of the vehicle’s safety cage, manufacturers can balance safety and weight concerns. They can build vehicles that are both safe and efficient. There are certain issues that have to be investigated when considering whether a viable products liability case exists when a highway crash occurs with serious injuries or death. The investigation will include the following:
• The crash severity, determined by Delta V is very important;
• You might determine whether or not seatbelts were used and, if not, would they have made a difference;
• A determination of whether the restraint systems functioned properly is necessary;
• You must determine how the subject vehicle’s crashworthiness performed compared with crash testing for the same model, and with vehicles of a similar vintage; and
• Find out if feasible occupant protection systems were available, but not incorporated into the design of the subject vehicle.
If you would like to have a more detailed explanation of crashworthiness, contact Greg Allen at 1-800-898-2034 or by email at Greg.Allen@beasleyallen.com. I am reasonably sure that Greg has investigated more crashworthiness cases during the past 10 years than any lawyer in the U.S.
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