Roof Crush Defects

Vehicle Roof Caving

When it comes to federal statistics, there are some relatively alarming numbers being seen. Approximately 7,000 people each year are severely injured or even killed in vehicle accidents where the roof crushes or caves in. General Motors and Ford Motor Co. have worked on fighting costly upgrades to a roof strength standard that has been in place for over 33 years now. In year 1971, these automakers attempted to convince federal officials to adopt a minimum standard for roof strength. However, their attempts failed the government’s first test and it was determined that it should become a standard that needs updating.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) looked hard at recent crash data to establish a direct relationship between collapsing roofs and catastrophic injuries. They publish their safety ratings on frontal and side-impact crash tests, however, consumers really don’t know how their vehicle’s roof is going to react until it occurs in an actual crash.

What do we know about roof crush?

Roof crush, in a nutshell, refers to the amount of cave-in a passenger vehicle’s roof will sustain when it is involved in a rollover accident. In some cases, the roof will intrude into the passenger compartment during a rollover. This could cause windows and doors to bust open and reduce overall headroom, and also allow unbelted occupants to be ejected from the vehicle. Reduced headroom could cause belted passengers to come into hard contact with the vehicle’s roof and, in all cases, serious harm oftentimes results.

So, where does liability come into play with manufacturers? Strict liability laws are applied to cases that involve defective automotive products. Laws require in cases that the victim of an accident involving said defective product prove that the product caused harm and was overall unreasonably dangerous. Product liability lawsuits are often filed on grounds or insufficient warning labels or directions, design flaws, and errors made during manufacturing. To prove the harm done, injuries must be directly linked to the defective roofs mentioned. Deaths are sometimes very common in motor vehicle accidents involving roof crush, very unfortunately, and many people who survive will sustain catastrophic injuries. This could include amputation or lost limbs, broken bones or fractures, neck and head injuries, traumatic brain injury, paralysis or spinal cord injuries, or road abrasions.

Ford Explorer, already under scrutiny in the news for rollover accidents being on the rise with certain models, went under scrutiny once again for its roof crush issues. Each year, hundreds of Ford Explorer owners were severely injured or killed due to rollover accidents.

In most of these rollover accidents, the roof would crush down and cause catastrophic injuries and killing scores to those involved. The roof supports in Ford Explorers known as roof pillars would collapse, allowing the roof to intrude into the occupant space. Roof failure or roof crush injuries result mostly from the energy of the vehicle in a rollover, which creates compressive forces that push down on the top of the skill when the head is in an upright position. The compression can cause a bursting fracture to the cervical spine. A bursting fracture can cause extremely serious and scary results like paraplegia, quadriplegia, and death in many cases.

In other rollovers involving Ford Explorers, the roof header or pillars intruding into the Explorer is not the cause of injury. The cause of injury is usually otherwise from when the occupant dives into the roof, which can result in the head flexing forward before receiving an impact to the top of the head. This, instead of bursting, causes the bone in the cervical vertebrae to instead fracture. These injuries can even result in belted occupants, who can become unbelted or unrestrained for many reasons during a rollover accident. That often occurs because of inertia releasing the buckle, false latching of the buckle, or unintentional release.

Where do safety standards come into play?

Safety Standard 216, which has been in force since 1973, is constantly undergoing revision. The government proposed to increase the amount of force that a passenger vehicle roof could withstand, with a range going from 1.5 to 2.5 times the vehicle’s unloaded weight. According to research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the increase was estimated to reduce the risk of serious injuries or death in rollover crashes by 28%.

Who conducts vehicle testing and standards for these issues?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in large, determines the worthy standards of roof crash in passenger vehicles. Standard 216 makes a requirement that vehicles need to pass a static test, which involves a heavy flat device being pressed down on one side of the vehicle’s roof at 13 millimeters per second. It reaches a force equal to 1.5 times the unloaded vehicle’s weight and, to pass the test, the roof must be able to withstand the force of the weight without intruding more than 5 inches into the passenger compartment. For instance, the roof of a passenger vehicle that weighs 3,000 pounds must be able to withstand 4,500 pounds of weight without caving in more than 5 inches.

When it comes to making a case, there are two types of compensation that may be rewarded to victims of defective roofs. These are compensatory and punitive damages. Insurance companies and juries will award compensatory damages to victims in order to compensate for financial losses caused by the roof crush accident at hand.

Compensatory damages will reimburse victims for medical expenses, lost income, psychological pain, and the likes. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are intended to penalize the liable party and prevent similar accidents in the future and can vary greatly depending on the case.

Speaking to an attorney may help you determine the value of your case and they can answer any questions you may have. In complex cases like these that revolve around a defective product (in this case a vehicle with a defective roof), it is highly necessary to have a personal injury attorney on your side.