Rollover accidents, though less frequent than other types of vehicular accidents, often lead to severe injuries or even death. The inherent complexities surrounding these cases demand expertise in both personal injury law and product liability, making them uniquely challenging for even the most seasoned legal practitioners.
Understanding Rollover Accidents
Rollovers occur when a vehicle tips over onto its side or roof during a crash. While any vehicle can experience a rollover, taller, narrower vehicles like SUVs, trucks, and vans are more susceptible due to their higher center of gravity. Many factors can contribute to a rollover accident, including the driver’s behavior, road conditions, and vehicle type.
However, a significant percentage of rollover accidents can be attributed to vehicle design flaws or component failure, paving the way for product liability claims. Product liability is an area of law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others involved in the production and distribution chain can be held responsible for injuries caused by their products.
Rollover Accidents and Product Liability Lawsuits
When a rollover accident is the direct result of vehicle design flaws, injured parties have the option of suing the car manufacturer in a product liability lawsuit. If the defect is related to the tires, the tire manufacturer could also be a potential defendant. Rollover lawsuits alleging a defective product focus on three distinct issues: vehicle design, safety features, and tire defects.
- Vehicle Design: If the design of a vehicle makes it more susceptible to rollovers, the manufacturer may be held liable. For instance, a high center of gravity can increase a vehicle’s instability during sharp turns or high-speed maneuvers, increasing the risk of a rollover.
- Safety Features: Another common product liability claim concerns the absence or failure of safety features that could prevent rollovers or minimize the injury caused by them. These could involve stability control systems, anti-lock braking systems, or rollover bars.
- Tire Defects: Tires play a pivotal role in vehicle stability. Defects such as tire tread separation can lead to loss of vehicle control, increasing the risk of rollover accidents.
Establishing Product Liability in Rollover Cases
Product liability rollover lawsuits generally fall under three categories: design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects (also known as failure to warn).
- Design Defects: A design defect claim asserts that the inherent design of the product is unsafe. For instance, a vehicle that has a high center of gravity could be considered defectively designed because it is more likely to roll over.
- Manufacturing Defects: These claims occur when a product becomes dangerous due to an error in the manufacturing process, deviating from the intended design.
- Marketing Defects (Failure to Warn): This category pertains to dangers that aren’t obvious to the user or require a certain method of use to avoid injury. If the manufacturer doesn’t provide adequate warnings or instructions about these dangers, they may be held liable.
Challenges and Strategies in Rollover Accident Litigation
Rollover lawsuits are known for their complexity and cost. You will not see many rollover lawsuits absent a death or a head or spinal injury. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring some rollover cases to trial given the combination of medical testimony for the injuries and the cost of experts to establish the defects. So the math on these cases is sobering.
You will not be able to find a rollover accident lawyer unless your likely verdict if successful will be in the millions because attorneys are on the hook for the costs in these cases. So what you do not want is to take a rollover accident claim to trial only to get less than the cost of bringing the trial in the first place. So many victims who have viable claims cannot find a rollover accident attorney because, thankfully in most respects, their injuries are not severe enough for it to make economic sense for the lawyers to pursue a claim.
Let’s talk about some of the work that has to be done to bring a rollover lawsuit to trial. The technical complexity inherent to these cases requires a great deal of work from lawyers and their experts. Rollover cases all have common threads but every accident is unique. Establishing the presence of a product defect or design flaw that contributed to a rollover accident usually involves dissecting intricate issues related to vehicle design, manufacturing, and safety systems. Expert witnesses, such as automotive engineers, accident reconstruction experts, and even biomechanical experts – none of which come cheap – may be needed to dissect the crash and provide testimony.
The time commitment involved in a rollover lawsuit also contributes to its complexity. Rollover accident cases can span months or even years due to the extensive investigation required to collect and analyze evidence. Rollover accident attorneys need to meticulously review all available evidence from the accident scene, vehicle wreckage, police reports, witness statements, and other sources.
Another factor contributing to the cost of these lawsuits is the need to counter the extensive resources of the defendant, often a large vehicle manufacturer or insurance company. These entities tend to have deep pockets and a vested interest in refuting liability claims. As such, they are likely to employ a team of high-powered attorneys and experts to counter any arguments put forth by the plaintiff. Consequently, plaintiffs need to be prepared to engage in a potentially lengthy and costly legal battle.
Presenting the Medical Evidence in the Case
Medical records and expert testimony serve as the backbone of any rollover lawsuits. The damages are almost invariably in the millions, often in the tens of million. Marshaling that evidence is something our law firm does regularly – and we know it takes a lot of work. It starts with the medical records to show the extent and severity of the injuries sustained and the associated treatments. This will include hospital stay records, surgical reports, records of physical therapy, medication histories, and more. Expert testimony, which could be provided by treating physicians or third-party medical experts, is also instrumental in explaining the plaintiff’s condition, future prognosis, and the need for ongoing treatments or interventions.
Demonstrating lost wages and future earning capacity is another critical component. This could involve employment records, salary histories, and expert testimony from economists or vocational experts. Such experts can help to quantify the likely future income the injured person would have earned if not for the accident. They take into account factors like inflation, promotion potential, and career lifespan.
The case must also convincingly portray a comprehensive life care plan. This plan outlines the necessary future medical care and assistance the plaintiff will need throughout their life due to their injuries. A well-constructed life care plan can encompass a wide range of needs, from future surgeries to personal care assistance, home modifications for disability, special equipment, and more. Often, a life care planner and an economist will be called upon to provide detailed testimony about this plan and its associated costs.
You also need to put on fact witness testimony from people close to the plaintiff. Family members, friends, or colleagues can provide a more personal and emotional perspective on the plaintiff’s life before and after the injury. They can describe the pain and suffering experienced, the loss of enjoyment of life, and the overall impact of the injury on the plaintiff’s daily life. This does not require much economic investment but it does take a great deal of effort.
Defenses that Need to Be Attacked Head On
Defense lawyers in these cases will turn over every possible stone to defend these cases. These defenses include:
- Misuse of Product: Defendants often argue that the plaintiff was using the product in a way that was not intended or foreseeable, and this misuse led to the accident.
- Alteration or Modification: If a vehicle was altered or modified after it left the manufacturer’s control, and this alteration contributed to the accident, the manufacturer might not be held liable.
- State of the Art Defense: Some jurisdictions allow manufacturers to argue that the state of scientific and technical knowledge at the time the product was manufactured did not permit a safer design.
What Vehicles Have the Highest Rollover Rate
Any type of vehicle is capable of rolling over during an accident under the correct circumstances. However, taller vehicles with a higher center of gravity are much more prone to rollovers. Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) tend to have higher centers of gravity because of their design and the majority of rollover accidents involve SUVs.
The list below ranks those vehicles (all SUVs) which are most prone to rollover based on product testing and accident data. This information is based on model years 2018-2021.
- Cadillac Escalade
- Jeep Wrangler
- Jeep Renegade
- Chevy Tahoe
- GMC Yukon
- Hyundai Accent
SUVs With the Best Rollover Ratings
Listed below are the SUVs with best rollover safety ratings based on testing and data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- Chevy Traverse
- Nissan Murano
- Subaru Tribeca
- Toyota Highlander
Verdicts & Settlements in Rollover Product Liability Cases
Below are summaries of verdicts and reported settlements from prior product liability cases alleging that defects in a vehicle caused a rollover accident.
Smith v Ford Motor Co, (Alabama 2019) $151,791,000 Verdict: The plaintiff, a male in his early 20s, suffered paralysis resulting in the need for 24/7 care when the Ford Explorer he was riding in as a passenger rolled over after the driver attempted to avoid hitting an animal on the road. The lawsuit asserted a negligent design claim regarding the vehicle’s handling, stability and rollover propensities with the argument that several alternative designs were available which would have prevented a rollover collision.
Leos-Ortiz v Ford Motor Co., (California 2018) $4,800,000 Verdict: The plaintiff was driving a 1999 Ford Explorer SUV with a sheet of plywood strapped to the factory installed luggage rack. He lost control of the vehicle and it rolled over. He brought a rollover product liability lawsuit alleging that the vehicle had inadequate occupant protection systems for the vehicle and providing inadequate stability features and handling characteristics, including but not limited to electronic stability control.
McFarlin v General Motors (California 2016) $125,000 Settlement: Woman suffered fatal injuries when her husband’s GMC vehicle rolled over due to an alleged malfunction of the steering column causing a loss of control. The lawsuit claimed that the vehicle was designed without electronic stability control; was recalled prior to this incident for defective steering; and was not designed to provide reasonable and necessary occupant protection in the event of a rollover collision such as side-curtain or rollover airbags.
Copeland v General Motors (California 2015) $846,860 Settlement: A 23-year-old mother of 2 small children was killed when her GMC Yukon vehicle lost traction on a wet roadway, fishtailed and rolled over. The product liability lawsuit against GMC alleged that failed to meet the reasonable expectations of safety and was designed with unreasonable stability, was prone to rollovers, designed with an elevated center of gravity and was sold with an inadequate and defective rollover protection system.
Wayward v Ford Motor Co. (South Carolina 2015) $3,250,000 Verdict: a 26-year-old female died when she was expelled through a broken window after her Ford SUV rolled over. The lawsuit alleged that Ford had knowledge of previous rollovers involving it’s SUVs, failed to change the design of the vehicle, and failed to warn the decedent of the possibility for a rollover.
Hall-Edwards v. Ford Motor Co (Florida 2013) $19,000,000 Verdict: Passenger in a 1996 Ford Explorer suffered fatal injuries when the SUV rolled over when the driver attempted to change lanes suddenly. The decedent was ejected from the vehicle during the rollover. The lawsuit asserted that Ford improperly designed and manufactured the subject vehicle with inadequate stability, designed it for use with and placed upon it overly large tires that increased turnover potential.
Maharaj v Ford Motor Co (Florida 2011) $10,680,000 Verdict: A 6-year-old boy was ejected from the vehicle when the 1996 Ford Explorer he was a passenger in lost control and rolled over at high speed. The boy suffered injuries which required the amputation of his leg below the knee. The roll over lawsuit claimed that Ford failed to warn Ford Explorer SUV consumers of its poor handling and lack of stability.
Hiring the Best Rollover Accident Lawyer You Can
Constructing and lodging a lawsuit demands skill, time, and resources. When in the throes of recovery from an accident, you may not possess the time, resources, or physical fortitude required for this task. You want to find the best rollover accident attorney you can find to secure as much compensation as you can. If you decide that is our firm, call us at 800-553-8082. There is no cost of obligation to reach out to us. Learn about the process and what we can do to help you. You can also reach out to us online.