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Car Defects: The Concept of "Crashworthiness"

The most important concept in vehicle defect cases is "crashworthiness" -- the ability of a vehicle to prevent injuries to the occupants in the event of a collision. During a collision, a vehicle's occupants are subject to a number of forces that can result in injury, including rapid deceleration and rapid acceleration, depending on the direction of impact in the collision. Crashworthiness deals primarily with the "second collision" that results from these forces, in which the driver and passengers collide against the interior of the vehicle. An effective crashworthy vehicle design will distribute these injurious forces over as great a period of time and distance as possible, including by directing them to parts of the body that are more capable of withstanding them.

Crashworthiness features, which are designed to minimize occupant injuries, prevent ejection from the vehicle, and reduce the risk of fire, include: seat belts; crumple zones; and, airbags (including side impact protection).

Liability Based On "Crashworthiness"

It is key to remember that the cause of the accident is usually considered irrelevant in crashworthiness cases, but that the concept can be used to hold a vehicle manufacturer liable for injuries sustained in a car accident because of a defect that was not the cause of the accident, but caused or made worse the injuries suffered in the accident. Basically, crashworthiness is concerned with whether the manufacturer designed the vehicle and its components so that it is safe for any reasonably foreseeable use. A vehicle's reasonably foreseeable use includes the possibility of its involvement in a collision; therefore, a manufacturer's duty extends to the design of a vehicle that is reasonably safe should a collision occur.

Injuries caused by a vehicle's crashworthiness are considered (and can be compensated) apart from the injuries that were caused by the accident itself. This distinction can prove to be a little difficult when it comes time to prove your injuries and their causes, especially when it comes to medical proof of the extent of an enhanced injury beyond the injury that could have been expected if the vehicle had been crashworthy.

Recently, there has been significant effort in Congress and in some state legislatures, to establish that a vehicle manufacturer's compliance with government safety standards is a valid defense to a vehicle defect claim, but courts are continuing to rule that, regardless of federal standards, vehicle manufacturers have a duty to build a car that is as safe as is reasonably possible under the present state of mechanical technology, vehicle design, and safety.

Pursuing Your Claim Based On "Crashworthiness"

In order for you to recover in a claim based on a motor vehicle's crashworthiness, you will likely need to show that a design feature that was reasonably avoidable either caused an injury in an automobile accident, or increased the risk of that injury. One of the most effective ways to establish this is to show that a safety device was available, and that such a device could have and should have been used. An experienced product liability attorney will consider all legal options in your case, and will enlist the help of expert vehicle design and safety consultants in order to ensure that your right to compensation for your injuries is fully protected.

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