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Car Defects: The Concept of Crashworthiness

When you buy a car, you shouldn't have to worry about whether it's safe or not. Most consumers do their homework regarding vehicle safety before they even test drive a vehicle. They check the safety ratings and read reviews from other drivers. This is why it's frustrating to learn that your new or certified pre-owned vehicle isn't crashworthy.

What is crashworthiness? Crashworthiness is a vehicle's ability to protect vehicle occupants from severe injuries should a crash occur. The impact from a car crash can toss occupants around inside the car or SUV. The severity of your injuries often depends on things like rapid deceleration and rapid acceleration. It also depends on where the other vehicle hits your car.

In this section, we will explain how one measures a vehicle's crashworthiness. We will also discuss what to do if you learn that your car isn't crashworthy. Finally, we will describe what to do if a vehicle defect increases the severity of your injuries during a crash.

Crashworthiness and Vehicle Design

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), crashworthiness focuses on occupant protection to reduce the number of fatal and serious injuries that occur in the United States each year. It deals primarily with "second collision," which is the collision between passengers and the vehicle's interior.

An effective crash-worthy vehicle design will distribute damaging forces over the time and distance of the crash. It should also redirect them to parts of your body that are more capable of withstanding the crash's impact. Crashworthiness does the following:

  • Minimize occupant injuries
  • Prevent ejection from the vehicle
  • Reduce the risk of fire

Some of the features in your car to protect you include:

  • Seat belts and other restraint systems
  • Crumple zones
  • Airbags, including side impact protection
  • Seat backs
  • Door latches
  • Laminated window glass 

If any of these items are missing, there could be a design defect. If these features exist but the manufacturer didn't install them properly, you may be dealing with a manufacturing defect.

Liability Based on Crashworthiness

The cause of your accident is irrelevant in crashworthiness cases. The point of filing a lawsuit for crashworthiness is to hold the manufacturer accountable for secondary injuries you sustain. Your personal injury attorney must prove that had the vehicle been crashworthy, your damages wouldn't have been as severe.

Of course, the defendant will argue that your injuries were due to the impact and not the car's crashworthiness. The judge will make the final decision as to whether the safety features in your car were sufficient to protect you and your passengers from unnecessary injury.

A crashworthiness determination depends on whether the manufacturer designed the vehicle and its components to be safe for all reasonably foreseeable uses. A vehicle's reasonably foreseeable purpose includes the possibility of a motor vehicle crash.

Injuries associated with a vehicle's crashworthiness can be compensated separately from damages caused by the accident. It can be challenging to make this distinction.

Your car accident lawyer must present medical evidence that the lack of safety features enhanced your injuries because the vehicle wasn't crashworthy. Your auto accident attorney may also have to hire experts to prove your vehicle defect claim.

Pursuing Your Claim Based on Crashworthiness

To recover damages in a claim based on a motor vehicle's crashworthiness, you must show that the vehicle's design either failed to protect you or increased the likelihood of getting hurt.

An effective way to establish this is to show that a safety device was available but that the manufacturer chose not to include it. An experienced product liability attorney will enlist the help of expert vehicle design and safety consultants to do this.

Contact a Defective Product Attorney To Help With Your Crashworthiness Lawsuit

Before you file your injury claim, it's best to seek legal advice. If you were involved in a vehicle accident, you may be entitled to significant damages. To ensure you get the money you deserve, you want an attorney with experience handling defect cases.

Visit FindLaw's personal injury attorney directory to find a seasoned auto defect lawyer near you.

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Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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