/rueziffra.com/Allan Ziffra-Auto Accident Attorney/ 03/19/2009
It was not until very recently automobile manufacturers started paying closer attention to rollover occupant protection. Although automobile manufacturers have a duty to design their vehicles to provide for reasonable occupant protection in foreseeable rollover accidents, they have mostly ignored rollover crashworthiness since there have been virtually no governmental regulations in place. Long overdue, recent congressional scrutiny of rollover deaths and injuries (many associated with sport-utility vehicles), has made rollover occupant safety an issue for automobile manufacturers. Unlike front or side impact crashes where the vehicle is forced to absorb a large amount of energy in a very brief period of time, rollover accidents usually result in energy being dissipated for a lengthier period of time and over greater distance. Hence, it is actually more likely that occupants will survive a rollover crash due to the fact that force exerted on the passengers is generally lower. However, survival is primarily contingent on the adequacy of a crash protection system. The attorneys at Rue & Ziffra, P.A., are experienced and knowledgeable in prosecuting auto accident injury claims, including harm sustained in rollover crashes.
Notable defects that contribute to occupant injury in rollover accidents include lack of adequate roof and pillar strength, defective seat belts and door locks, lack of side curtain air bags and other interior padding, and a lack of window glazing. There are two types of claims that can be brought by an individual who sustains serious injury in a rollover accident: rollover crashworthiness claims and rollover stability claims. Rollover crashworthiness claims focus on a vehicle’s ability to protect its occupants if and when the vehicle rolls over. A rollover stability claim, however, is based on the vehicle’s stability on the roadway and its ability to resist rolling over in the first place.
Referred to as the crashworthiness doctrine, this principle holds that automakers have an obligation to protect occupants in foreseeable crashes. Specifically, this doctrine states that where an automobile manufacturer’s negligence in designing a vehicle causes an unreasonable risk to be imposed upon the occupants of such vehicle, the manufacturer will be liable for the injury caused by its failure to exercise reasonable care in design. A manufacturer must take such reasonable and practicable steps to forestall particular crash injuries. Consistent with the principles of crashworthiness, in order to protect occupants in a rollover, the vehicle must contain a “survival space” which is enclosed by the vehicle’s roof, side rails and pillars. The survival space works together with the vehicle’s restraint system inside the structure of the automobile to protect occupants if the vehicle rolls over.
The roof structure of the vehicle is an integral component of a vehicle’s ability to protect occupants in a rollover accident. Severe head trauma and spinal cord injuries are likely when a vehicle’s roof collapses during a rollover. Structural integrity and strength of the roof system are critical to ensuring that the survival space is protected by a sufficient integrated safety cage. Along with a secure safety cage, properly designed seat belts are of absolute necessity in reducing rollover-related injuries and preventing passenger ejection. Surprisingly, no federal safety standard governs how an occupant restraint system must perform in a rollover accident. Unsurprisingly, then, it is not at all uncommon for belted occupants to move toward the roof when their bodies become inverted in the course of a rollover crash. Ideally, safety restraints will operate to keep occupants away from interior parts of the vehicle and in their seats throughout the rollover process, preventing potentially serious injuries and partial or complete ejection. It is said that the vehicle’s structure is only as good as its restraint system; the two systems must be designed to work together to prevent roof collapse and keep passengers completely inside the survival space.
Furthermore, technology that combines glass and plastic by means of lamination and glazing has proven to be quite effective in preventing windows from shattering during rollover accidents and keeping passengers inside the vehicle. Unfortunately, most side windows are made of tempered glass rather than either a glass-and-plastic combination or laminated glass which results in an increased propensity for occupants to be ejected during a rollover. Suffice it to say, it is vital that doors remain closed during accidents in order to help keep occupants safely inside the vehicle. Defective door latches can cause individuals to sustain serious injury and death in cases where they would have escaped significant harm had the door(s) remain closed. Lastly but by no means least important, adequate interior padding surrounding the vehicle’s hard upper-interior parts and side curtain air bags are highly effective in reducing rollover forces and injuries.
Automobile manufacturers have largely neglected passenger protection in rollover accidents until recently, relying instead on insufficient minimum government safety standards and regulations. However, increased encouragement from a more consumer-friendly government and years of compensating thousands of rollover collision victims may have finally persuaded automobile manufacturers to design adequate crash protection systems. We can only hope that such safety improvements will be implemented in the near future so as to drastically reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities sustained by victims of rollover accidents every year.
The Rue & Ziffra team is here to assist you in pursuing the maximum recovery to which you are entitled if you have been injured in an auto accident. For more information on our experience and qualifications, visit www.rueziffra.com or call our law offices at 1-888-246-8613.
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