Product Liability Update – Is your large truck or SUV safe?
Per the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, More than 10,000 people die each year in rollover crashes. These deaths can be prevented if the roof of the vehicle had been made stronger. When vehicles roll, their roofs hit the ground and can deform and crush inward into the passenger compartment or “survival space”. The stronger the roof, the more survival space, and the safer passengers are in rollover accidents. Stronger roofs can prevent occupants from being ejected from vehicles when, and if the roof does deform in anyway during an accident.
The original Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 216 required that a vehicle’s roof be able to withstand a force of 1.5 times the weight of the car. The rule was extended in the early 1990s to include all passenger vehicles up to a gross weight rating of 6,000 pounds. Why is this inadequate for a heavy truck like an F-250? Because experience and testing undeniably shows heavier trucks require the roof system to withstand more than 1.5 times the weight of the truck or SUV. While this standard was eventually changed by Congress in 2017, many SUVs and pickups on the road today have not been recalled and are still under the old Federal Safety Standard and are exempt. This has created a loop hole for automobile manufactures and has created a serious safety hazard in the United States.
In Texas, drivers are only required to carry an insurance policy with limits of $30,000 for Bodily Injury and $60,000 per accident, the “minimum” insurance policy limits. Even with UIM coverage, most individuals seriously injured or killed in an auto accident will be bringing a claim against another driver who is grossly underinsured. In most cases where the insurance limits will not bring a person justice, the severity of the injuries prompts an investigation into the crashworthiness of the vehicles at issue. In this scenario, the law firm must also investigate the condition of the roadway, signage and construction at or near the site, as well as the vehicle itself.
The first thing you must do is to save the vehicle if you believe you have a crashworthiness case. Advise the insurance company and wrecker or tow yard not to touch or move your vehicle without notifying you first. Send a spoliation letter. Then pay to move and store the vehicle in a garage if possible. Make sure the vehicle is protected and stored in conditions that will not alter the vehicle. Ask your accident reconstructionist to immediately inspect the road and gather the black box data. The lawyer should also go to the scene of the accident. Look for evidence, cameras, mile markers, skid marks and take photos. Talk to nearby businesses, call the local news outlets and talk to the local police. We discovered in one case the local Chief of Police called a section of highway the “Bermuda Triangle of Manor” due to the number of accidents on a small section of highway.
These types of cases require resources, expertise and quick action. Make sure to hire or joint venture the case with a law firm with experience in handling these cases and who has established relationships with the appropriate experts, such as engineers, biomechanical experts, forensic pathologists, auto defect experts, accident reconstructionists, life care planners and economists. It is not unusual for an auto defect case to require 6 or more experts.
Wenholz | Dow invites other lawyers and firms to contact us to discuss jointly managing cases. We have a long history of successfully working with other firms on important cases to achieve record setting results.