Defective Roof and Seatbelt Design - SUV Rollover - Wrongful Death

  • Date: Fall 2006
  • FIRM
  • Settlement: $595,000
  • Practice Areas: Automotive Product Liability, Defective Roof Design, Defective Seatbelt Design, Roof Crush, Rollover, Wrongful Death

The firm represented the estate of a doctor and her family, in a case involving the rollover of a 1996 SUV where the vehicle wound up on its roof after rolling over. The decedent, a doctor driving home from rounds at the hospital, wound up upside down in her vehicle after the crash.

She was seat belted, but because the roof collapsed and her seatbelt provided too much slack, she was asphyxiated by her weight bearing down on her head and neck. If her roof had not given way and her restraint system performed as it should have, she would have likely survived the crash with only minor injuries. Her "positional asphyxia" would have been prevented with a good roof design and a good restraint system design.

As early as the 1970's, motor vehicle manufacturers recognized that seat belt fit and geometry is an important part of vehicle safety. The better a seat belt can hold a person in their seat, the better they will do in an accident. This is especially true in SUVs which are far more prone to rollover than other vehicles. One way to achieve a better fitting seatbelt is to mount them into the seat itself rather than to the roof pillars of the vehicle. That way, even if the vehicle is upside down, the person is restrained in the seat, and slack cannot form in the belt. Even though that particular more effective seat design was examined and tested by the SUV's manufacturer in this case, it was not implemented in the particular model of SUV driven by the decedent, resulting in poor seatbelt design and weak roof construction in a vehicle that can cause serious injury.

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