Lawyers, like those in our firm’s Product Liability Section who handle product liability cases, and specifically cases involving motor vehicles, understand the term “crashworthiness.” It certainly isn’t a new term. The present location of the steering wheel was moved from the right to the left in 1915 in order to provide the driver a better view point so as to avoid oncoming vehicles. The president of General Motors (GM) recognized the manufacturer’s duty to design safe vehicles when, in 1965, he stated that it was the duty of the manufacturer “to seek all possible ways in which the built-in protection for car occupants can be improved.”
Crashworthiness is simply the degree to which the manufacturer’s design of the package will protect the occupants from injuries in the event of a collision. Crashworthiness is an engineering term that may more appropriately be referred to in terms of basic occupant safety. Crashworthiness principles apply to virtually all vehicles that carry humans. Our firm has handled crashworthiness cases involving cars, heavy trucks, airplanes, helicopters, tractors, fork lifts and really the list goes on. The design considerations all change for each of those vehicles, but the principle is the same. In the event of a collision, the vehicle safety cage is supposed to protect the occupant by maintaining survival space and reducing the collision forces that the occupants would otherwise be exposed to in that crash.
A correctly functioning occupant protection system reduces the loads exerted on occupants in a crash. That, in turn, has the effect of lowering the severity of the occupant’s injury. Safety advances have raised the bar on the design of vehicles. Today, manufacturers have a responsibility, just as GM’s CEO acknowledged in 1965, to continue to build vehicles that provide the built in protection occupants deserve. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Today we couldn’t imagine a sedan designed without a frontal airbag and seatbelt. We now have side airbags and cars that can avoid crashes altogether. New building materials make vehicle safety cages stronger and more likely to protect occupants. Tomorrow will bring new technologies. Manufacturers have a responsibility not only to provide those technologies, but provide them in a way that makes those technologies effective in protecting occupants.
The lawyers in our firm’s Personal Injury/Products Liability Section are experienced in handling crashworthiness cases, having handled hundreds of cases involving that concept. We believe that anyone seriously injured while occupying any type of vehicle should have that case evaluated by experienced product liability lawyers to determine if the vehicle was designed with the appropriate level of crashworthiness in mind. If you need more information on crashworthiness, contact Greg Allen, the most senior lawyer in our firm who handles product liability claims. You can contact Greg at 800-898-2034 or by email at Greg.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
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