Thursday, March 13, 2008
Stronger Roofs May Save Hundreds of Needless Deaths in Rollovers ~ by a Trial Lawyer
Six murders in L.A. and it is a public outrage. Over two hundred people die in roll over accidents because of faulty roofs and there is virtually no publicity. The hypocrisy should stop. You will probably never publish my article because I am a Trial Lawyer who represents injured people and you are usually on the side of the defense. But if you get a conscious, maybe some day my comments will be seen in print.
Auto manufacturers consistently deny any connection between roof strength and the safety of occupants. Admittedly, it is difficult to find a regulator who will offer a Plaintiff favorable testimony that there is a direct correlation between the two. But safety advocates and trial lawyers have used common sense logic to show that roofs crush too easily in rollovers. The result of weak roofs is that people become severely injured or to die. Such tragedy is needlessly. On Wednesday, a sobering report added an arrow in the Trial Lawyers quiver. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report concludes that more than 200 deaths in 2006 could have been prevented in rollovers if SUVs had stronger roofs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't upgraded its roof strength standard since 1971. Statistics show that a SUV is more than twice as likely as cars to roll over. NHTSA estimates that upgrading the roof strength standard may only save 13 to 44 lives a year. However, IIHS President Adrian Lund counters, "What we do know from this study is that strengthening a vehicle's roof reduces injury risk and reduces it a lot."
According to the institute report, if SUVs such as the 1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee or Chevy Blazer had roofs as strong as the top-rated Nissan Xterra, there would be 57% less risk of serious injury or death in a single-vehicle rollover. The 1996-2001 Ford Explorer also had one of the weakest roofs. IIHS collected data from 12 states but tested only models without stability control or side-curtain air bags as standard equipment. (Stability control and side air bag curtains significantly help prevent rollover injuries.) The testing of select vehicles was designed to prevent vehicle differences from skewing its results according to the IIHS.
The auto industries comments? Steve Kozak, Ford safety engineer, points out that stability control and side-curtain air bags, tensioners in seat belts, and seat-belt reminders all significantly reduce the risk of rollover injuries. Chrysler spokes persons argue that the Grand Cherokee had a lower fatality rate in rollover crashes than the Xterra last year. But IIHS spokesman Russ Rader responds that their study controlled for factors that influence the chance of a rollover so it could isolate the link between roof strength and injury risk.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents major automakers except Honda, calls the IIHS report "flawed."
The 212 deaths in 2006 that IIHS said may have been prevented with stronger roofs should have reduced fatalities in 11 SUV models by about one-third. Rae Tyson of NHTSA noted that NHTSA is working on a proposed rule to upgrade roof safety. But NHTSA advocates more strongly for seat belt usage.
"Roof crush" injuries remain a major source of litigation. In the 1980s, 20-year-old Kelly Sue Green hit a horse in Oregon. The horse landed on her Pinto's roof and collapsed the roof into Kelly's head. A jury ordered Ford Motor to pay Green's husband $1.475 million.
More recently, 18-year-old Tyler Moody rolled a 2003 Ford Explorer Sport crushing the roof. His family's attorney, Clark Brewster, argued in 2006 that the crash compressed his body causing "positional asphyxiation." A $15 million verdict was returned; however, it was overturned by U.S. District Court Judge Claire Eagan. Brewster is apparently going to retry the case in June. Ford said: "Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family, but this accident was a result of reckless driving. Tyler Moody was an exceptional young man, but unfairly blaming Ford for the driver's mistakes only compounds the tragedy."
The current standard? NHTSA proposed upgrading its roof strength standard in 2005. NHTSA recently solicited comments on a tougher proposal which involves testing both sides of a vehicle's roof. The current standard adopted in 1971 requires that roofs be able to hold more than 1.5 times the vehicles' weight. (The standard became applicable to SUVs and pickups in 1991.) The NHTSA 2005 proposal would require the roof to support two times the cars' weight. A new proposal may increase the standard to require roofs to support up to three times the vehicles weight.
Who can help with rollover cases? For expert analysis, consider consulting Carl Nash, a former NHTSA official who works as an expert witness in rollover cases.
Editors note: The name of the author has been with held as this is not intended as an advertisement. This article should be considered the opinion of it's author.