A great number of single vehicle accidents may be caused by a design defect or mechanical problem. Single vehicle accidents where the occupant received injuries worse than would be expected based on the severity of the accident can often be traced back to a defect.
Oftentimes, single vehicle accident investigations reveals product liability cases involving:
Fuel tank design and placement is very important to minimize injuries during accidents. Almost everyone remembers the infamous Ford Pinto. The Pinto had a fuel tank mounted behind the rear axle. This position allowed for dangerous and often explosive consequences in rear impact accidents.
There are vehicles with gas tanks mounted on the sides of the vehicle outside the structure of the frame. These “sidesaddle” tanks also leave the vehicle vulnerable to impact in a collision. The overall safest positioning of a gas tank is between the front and rear axles of the vehicle. However, manufacturers didn't always follow this guideline and many vehicles do not provide the proper structural protection for the tank. Collisions with these vehicles can lead to fuel-fed fires.
Also, it is not always the location of the fuel tanks that can lead to fuel fed fires. Design defects related to fuel fed fires can involve several different vehicle systems. The design issues can relate to issues of fuel filler cap design, fuel line design, fuel tank design, and also include fuel pump design. Fuel systems should be designed to maintain their integrity during reasonably foreseeable accidents so that occupants do not lose their lives in otherwise survivable accidents. If the occupants can survive crash forces without serious injury, so should the fuel system.
Simple shielding of the gas tank, known to the automobile manufacturing industry for years, can prevent fuel fed fires.
The roof is an important structural component of a vehicle and is critical in keeping the occupant safe. To protect occupants in a rollover, maintaining survival space is very important. Survival space is the area 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. The 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 the occupant’s head impacting some portion of the vehicle causing death, paralysis or brain damage. Sometimes, the occupant can even be partially ejected through an opening created during roof crush.
The seat belt is intended to minimize the injuries and damage caused in an accident Seat belt injuries often occur when there is a seat belt design, production, or installation defect. There are a plethora of injuries that may occur as a result of a defective seat belt or from failure of a seat belt: spinal cord injury, brain or head injury, paralysis, internal injuries, amputations, broken bones, concussions and fatalities.
Injuries can be caused from everything from belt webbing that could be cut by another part rubbing against it, to buckles that seem to latch but don’t, to shoulder belts that might not retract.
There are believed to be two collisions in an auto accident. The first collision is the vehicle’s impact with another vehicle or object. The second collision is the passenger’s impact with the interior of the vehicle, or in cases of ejection, impact outside the vehicle. Seat belt injuries can occur when a defective seat belt fails to adequately protect a vehicle passenger in the “second collision” phase of an automobile accident.
Lap Belt Only Seat Belt Injuries
In a lap belt only seat belt design, often found in the rear center seating position, occupants may jack-knife over the seat belt, receiving injuries in the process. The seat belt itself can cause spine or internal injuries when the occupant’s body bends over the seat belt webbing which then cuts into the soft tissue. Also, when the occupant’s body juts forward, head injuries can result when the head hits a seat back or a support pillar in the vehicle.
Shoulder Belt Only Seat Belt Injuries
With a shoulder belt only design, often seen in Hyundai or Volkswagen vehicles, occupants may submarine under the belt, causing neck injuries and sometimes decapitation.
Passive Restraint System Injuries
Passive restraint systems lull the occupant into a false feeling of safety when the shoulder belt slides around them. Passive restraint systems consist of a manual lap belt and a motorized shoulder belt, or are simply a door mounted three point system.
For the first type, the manual belt combination, occupants often forget to latch the manual belt, creating a "shoulder belt only" system. Thus, much like the Hyundai and Volkswagen vehicles mentioned above, occupants may submarine under the belt. In the second type, the door mounted three point system, if the door opens during an accident, the occupant can be ejected, often suffering horrific injuries or death.
Small stature persons are particularly susceptible to these types of injuries. The D-ring or shoulder strap anchor is typically placed in a position that is too high for a small stature person. As a result, the shoulder strap rides too high up on the occupants’ neck and causes severe spinal injuries in a collision. Auto manufacturers have been aware of this seat belt geometry defect for some time.
Some individuals suffer catastrophic spinal cord injuries as a result of defective seat belt geometry design.
A seat belt must not only be designed and mounted properly, but must latch properly and stay latched to provide maximum protection. Seat belt latching defects leave the occupant open for the possibility of being unrestrained in an accident.
Inertial unlatching occurs when a seat belt buckle releases by itself during a collision.
Inadvertent unlatching happens when the buckle opens as a result of some inadvertent contact by either the occupant or a component of the vehicle. Often a hand or arm contacts the release button causing an inadvertent unlatching.
Possibly the scariest of all seat belt buckle defects is false latching. This occurs when the buckle appears to be latched, sounds like it is latched and looks like it is latched, but is not actually properly or fully engaged. In this situation, forces during the accident can cause the buckle to unlatch.
There are several other possible defects that can occur with seat belts: the seat belt webbing can fail because of a defect within the webbing itself, or from a sharp item on the seat frame contacting the webbing during the collision; the retractor can fail to lock properly in an accident and cause an injury by allowing excess webbing to extend; a seat belt pretensioner, a device that removes excess slack from the seat belt webbing, could be missing from the design of the particular belt.
Tire failures, blowouts and detreads are foreseeable and preventable events. Manufacturers know that tire treads will wear with proper use and at some point fail if not serviced properly and replaced after their intended period of use has expired. Most new tires made today are estimated to last between 60,000 and 80,000 miles.
Obvious tire defects may be detected with a visual or cursory surface inspection when the tire is first installed and inflated. These include bulges, lumps, cracks and noticeable air leakage. Technicians should check for tire defects when any service work is done on the vehicle and its tires.
Tire tread separation can be caused by bonding problems in the tire manufacturing process, contaminants introduced into the tire during the tire making process, under-vulcanization, old ingredients, improper sized components, or something as simple as air being trapped in between the layers of the tire during manufacturing.
Detreading of these defective tires can result in single or multi vehicle accidents, or even rollovers. Even the auto manufacturers agree that drivers should be able to pull over, not roll over, when a tire detreads.
One of the fundamental principals of occupant protection is to keep the occupant safely inside the vehicle during an accident.
One of the most fundamental principles of occupant protection is to keep the occupant safely inside the vehicle during an accident. Vehicle design defects can make occupants more prone to ejection during an accident.
One of the more memorable vehicles with liftgate problems is the Chrysler minivan, manufactured between 1984 and 1995. Under very low forces, these liftgates open, often allowing occupants to be ejected. Still, another problem with liftgates occurs when the liftgate itself is made of fiberglass.
During a collision, a large portal for ejection is created when the fiberglass liftgate breaks away. The locks remain locked, but the weak liftgate simply cannot withstand the forces and tears away.
defective door latches
Similarly, door latches are known to fail during collisions. Door latches can fail for various reasons including mechanical problems. Poorly designed doors and latches result in a failure of the door to remain closed during an accident sequence. In fact, certain door latch designs will open simply by forces put on the outer body of the vehicle.
These defective door latches fail during an accident scenario not because of unreasonably high forces on the latch system, but rather due to poor designs which allow the door latch to actuate during the accident sequence.
The windows are another part of the occupant protection system. Although windshields are made of laminated glass, most side and rear windows are made of tempered glass which shatters and breaks during collisions. Tempered glass breakage allows for ejection, either partial or full, out of the window opening. This may occur in situations where the doors or liftgates remained closed.
Low Deployment Airbag Thresholds happen when you are injured by an airbag that opens in accidents of reduced speed, such as less than 10 mph. Low Deployment Airbag Thresholds happen when you are injured by an airbag that opens in accidents of reduced speed, such as less than 10 mph.
Air bag deploying late or not deploying at all.