The term “crashworthiness” is frequently used when manufacturers test vehicles for safety.
There are many reasons that a car crash might occur (including automobile defects). But even when the collision results from human error, a vehicle defect can directly cause serious harm (such as a brain injury) or make injuries worse than they should be. Crashworthy refers not to the vehicle’s sturdiness but to the vehicle’s ability to protect the occupants.
TBI (traumatic brain injury) is not always visible
More than half of all vehicle crashes include a report of traumatic brain injury TBI. (Concussions are a common form of brain injury.) At impact your head may strike something hard like your steering wheel or windshield, causing brain hemorrhaging or bruising. But there is not always a visible wound or direct impact. Brain injury can occur from the whiplash force of the crash, as the brain “collides” with the inside of the skull.
The way the car is designed, and the quality of the components, can affect the vehicle’s ability to prevent head trauma and other injuries. After a serious car accident, even if there are no open wounds or bruises, it is advisable to be checked by a doctor for brain injury. The symptoms can be delayed for hours, days or even weeks after the collision.
The crashworthiness factor
Auto manufacturers test their vehicles for crashworthiness. They use different criteria to determine the level of safety involved with different parts of the structure of a vehicle.
Crashworthiness can refer to:
- Restraint systems – If seat belts, shoulder harnesses or child car seat tethers fail, occupants may be ejected from the vehicle are bounced hard against the interior.
- Air bags – Front or side air bags can deploy spontaneously, causing injury or death; millions of cars have been recalled due to this defect. In a crash, the bags can also inflate at the wrong time, at a dangerous angle or fail to deploy, any of which can cause catastrophic brain injury, facial lacerations or neck injuries.
- Seat backs – Poorly designed seats can collapse or come lose from their moorings from the force of the crash, crushing occupants or pinning them against the frame of the car.
- Roof crush – Some roofs or roof supports are not able to withstand a rollover accident. If the roof caves in, the occupants may suffer severe or fatal head trauma, or be trapped and have to be mechanically extracted by rescue crews.
- Crumple zones – Modern cars are designed to absorb the force of a crash by collapsing at strategic points. Sometimes a mangled car means that the crashworthy design worked as intended and the occupants escaped serious injury. Other times it means that the wrong parts of the car failed and the occupants paid the price.
When buying a new car, research its overall crash rating and any weaknesses such as non-crashworthy in a side-impact, head-on, rear-end or rollover accident.
When buying a used car, you need to get a reliable history (such as CARFAX) of whether it has ever been in accident. The outer body might have been repaired, but a prior crash could have compromised the frame or the crashworthiness of safety components.
Product liability for auto defects
In terms of crashworthiness, how a crash happens or whose fault it is are irrelevant. What matters is whether the vehicle protected passengers as it was meant to. The manufacturer may be liable for injuries or death. Of course, there may also be actionable claims against a driver whose negligence caused the accident in which a non-crashworthy vehicle failed.
A personal injury attorney can explore all of your potential claims in a motor vehicle accident, including third party claims for product liability. Some attorneys will work with other law firms who specialize in auto defect litigation.