Rollover accidents can be deadly since the vehicle occupants can be violently tossed around within the vehicle, striking objects, windows and other passengers. If seat belts are not worn or are worn but fail to restrain the occupants, passengers can be ejected from the vehicle to the pavement or into any object outside. This was highlighted in a horrific crash early this Summer on I-95 near Exit 3 in Attleboro around 11:00 a.m. A Ford Econoline van transporting 11 persons was struck by a Toyota Rav 4 that was in the adjoining lane. Both vehicles crossed the median after impact. The van rolled over and all 11 occupants were ejected. Two of the passengers suffered fatal injuries. Police reports did not indicate how the accident occurred though it is likely that one motorist made an unsafe lane change or that both attempted to change lanes simultaneously. Other factors could have been fatigue, impairment, distraction, or the possible inexperience of the van driver.
Vans and Rollover Accidents
Rollover accidents seldom involve ordinary passenger cars but pose a considerable and known risk for drivers and passengers of SUVs and vans. This is mainly due to their high center of gravity that lends an element of instability that is more pronounced if there are at least 10 passengers aboard. In single car crashes for these vehicles holding 10 or more passengers, the rollover rate is an astonishing 85%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). For vans with less than 5 passengers, the rollover rate is 28%. 15-passenger vans like the Ford Econoline involved in the above accident are especially susceptible to rollovers and considered more dangerous than SUVs, trucks or minivans. This is because their center of gravity tends to shirt upwards and backward, making the vehicle difficult to control in an emergency situation.
A claim of liability can be made against the van manufacturer for faulty or unsafe design. 15-passenger vans were originally designed for cargo transportation but were expanded and outfitted with seats to transport people but without ensuring passenger safety. This would include laminated windows and steel reinforced roofs that would protect passengers in a rollover incident. Products liability cases such as these are difficult, however.
The risks of a rollover in a 15-passenger van can be minimized if the driver follows these recommended safety measures:
- Check the tires for proper inflation and tire tread since wear and tear and shallow tread increases the risk of a blowout and rollover
- Only drivers with commercial driver’s licenses should drive these vehicles
- Avoid overloading with luggage or other cargo
- Drive the speed limit
Vans and Seatbelts
Seat belts reduce the risk of being in a fatal accident by 45%. And if you are not restrained, you risk being ejected in any kind of accident but especially in a rollover accident. In the tragic accident described above, all 11 occupants were ejected, suggesting that none of them were wearing seatbelts. You are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle if not belted. Also, 75% of persons ejected suffer fatal injuries. The 9 ejected passengers who survived were fortunate in this regard.
If the subject van lacked seatbelts, then it should not have been used to transport anyone and the company or organization transporting the passengers should be held accountable for failing to see that they were safe. If it did have seatbelts, then it was the driver’s responsibility to see that everyone was restrained. If the van was rented out or was owned by a particular organization, it may face liability for this omission.. In a lawsuit, a defendant can argue that the death or particular injury could have been prevented or minimized if a seat belt was worn, though this usually requires expert testimony. But if there were seatbelts in the van, it seems highly unlikely that all 11 passengers neglected to wear one though it is possible.
It is also possible that if the van had seatbelts, that they simply failed to work. In a rollover, the seat belt retractor will let out excess slack because the mechanism for locking the retractor is ineffective. The retractor has a torsion bar that may also have been improperly adjusted. The result is that the seat belt fails to stay locked as some retractors will lock and unlock as the van rolls over from a horizontal to a vertical position instead of remaining locked in place. If this was the case, the seat belts need to be preserved for examination by an expert. This is why accident victims and their families need to promptly retain an experienced car accident lawyer who can quickly move to prevent the van from being destroyed or taken apart and to have an expert examine the seat belts as well as the entirety of the van including its tires, engine, steering and braking mechanisms. As noted above, the design flaws of the van that make it susceptible to rollovers could also be an issue in this case.
Damages in Rollover Accident Claims
You are entitled to damages if your car accident was caused by the negligence of another motorist or by the driver of the car or van in which you were a passenger, or by any other party responsible for defective equipment or the design of the van. Damages typically include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Loss of earning capacity
- Emotional distress
- Diminished quality or enjoyment of life
- Pain and suffering
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
Should another party be held responsible for the fatal rollover accident, then the administrators for the estates of the decedents can bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the immediate family members. Damages may include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses for emergency services and final treatment and care
- Lost potential income over the working life of the decedent
- Loss of the decedent’s love and companionship
- Pain and suffering of the decedent if he was visibly observed to have suffered prior to his death
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent
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