Car fires occur in just over two percent of all fatal vehicle crashes in the United States. It is estimated that there are three hundred and ten deaths annually due to car fires that result from collisions. The main cause for these deaths is rear end crashes. These types of crashes make up about forty six percent of the fatalities, or about one hundred and forty three deaths. On top of the deaths, there are numerous other types of injuries that result from car fires. (Statistics courtesy of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration)
While many automotive manufacturers have updated their safety standards to address this issue, and to further help prevent car fires following a crash, not all manufacturers have done so. This is because there are no specific regulations that require fuel tanks or fuel systems to be located in a specific area, and manufacturers are often allowed to simply post a safety warning on the vehicle rather than implement any changes.
Add to this mix the possibility of a fuel leak following a collision, and you greatly increase the chances of a car fire. Fuel leaks are often the cause of a tank design defect. This defect can be the result of the tank being located in an area that can fold in to puncture the tank, a tank that is improperly welded, or a tank that is not adequately protected. On top of a tank defect, fuel lines can also be defective and lead to a fuel fed car fire. Poor construction, improper fuel line location, and designs that allow electric fuel pumps to continue to pump fuel through the lines following a collision all increase the chances of a fuel leak.
Car fires substantially increase the potential for serious injuries to vehicle occupants. Crashes that are quite severe, or fatal, in nature experience seventy to eighty percent more fatalities when fire is involved, as opposed to other types of fatal collisions. Nonfatal collisions also become much more serious when fire is involved. Vehicle occupants have a three to four times higher chance of experiencing a serious injury when there is a car fire. Moderately severe crash victims double their chance of serious injury in a crash that involves fire.
Car fires are not only extremely dangerous for obvious reasons, but also because they exert a great deal more force on the vehicle and the passengers. This can be attributed for the following reasons:
• For crashes that resulted in deaths, those that also involved a car fire were thirty percent more likely to happen in areas with higher speed limits. Crashes that occur at higher speeds have more force.
• For all reported crashes, those that involved car fires were two and half to five times more apt to have very high damage levels.
• For all deadly crashes, those that also had car fires were seventy to ninety percent more likely to be singular crashes that did not involve other vehicles. These crashes were with stationary objects, which resulted in more severe impact.
Impact and collision direction also plays a very large role in car fires. Front end crashes make up about sixty to seventy percent of all fires resulting from collisions. These crashes may be fatal or non-fatal. Rear end crashes account for lesser numbers overall, however they are three times more likely to be fatal. This is most likely due to the location of the fuel tank.
Automotive manufacturers must stay ahead of these dangers and understand all possible risks of a fuel system, in order to avoid car fires following a collision. This is done by adding safety measures to substantially lower the risk of fire, and make various types of collisions more survivable. Automotive manufacturers who fail to make the proper changes may be held liable for their negligence should injury or death result from an accident involving their product.
Because the rules that govern automotive manufacturers relating to the issue of fuel tank placement, or fuel tank and line safety vary, manufacturers are given a bit of leeway to make necessary changes themselves. As previously stated, some fail to make any changes at all. In fact, intentionally not correcting vehicle fire safety issues and not issuing recalls promptly has led to a high number of lawsuits. These suits have allowed juries to award high settlements for victims, as well as hefty fines as means of punishment for companies. One of the best known cases of car fire dangers that went ignored was the case of Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company in 1981. This case centered on a 1972 Ford Pinto that caught fire from a rear end collision. The jury found Ford liable for damages and issued substantial punitive damages. Ford appealed the decision, however the court found that the company knew about the issue and could have corrected it for a minimal cost. It was determined that Ford chose not to address the issue as a means to save money thus putting public safety in danger. This "conscious disregard" resulted in many serious consequences for Ford.
Not all cases are as blatant as the case of the Ford Pinto. That being said, any time a collision has resulted in a car fire it is a good idea to contact a personal injury lawyer that specializes in product liability. These attorneys have in depth knowledge of such issues, and know exactly how to investigate your case to determine if the fire was due to unnecessary dangers, or defective products on the part of the manufacturer. In many cases your attorney will request your vehicle be preserved as evidence, and will conduct a thorough investigation of the accident scene.
It is important that you seek professional assistance promptly and document any and all injuries resulting from the accident. In the event that you have lost a loved one due to a car fire, your attorney may be able to file a wrongful death suit on your behalf. Compensation can be awarded for lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages. Do not risk your future, or the future of your family. Personal injury attorneys will work hard on your side to help you recoup some of what you have lost.