The Crashworthiness Doctrine

The Crashworthiness Doctrine is a vital concept in product liability law. This doctrine deals with the responsibility of vehicle manufacturers to ensure their products are designed and constructed to protect occupants in the event of an accident. Let’s explore the principles behind the Crashworthiness Doctrine, and how it applies to defective product injury cases.

How it protects the public

The Crashworthiness Doctrine is a legal principle that holds manufacturers of vehicles responsible for designing and manufacturing products that provide reasonable protection to occupants in the event of a crash. This concept is based on the recognition that accidents are an inevitable part of driving, and vehicle manufacturers have a duty to minimize the potential for injury or death during a collision.

Design vehicles for the expected crash

The Crash worthiness doctrine placed into law that manufactures must design their vehicles to survive crashes and minimize the injuries of its passengers.

And although there was a driver who caused an accident, the vehicle manufacturer is still responsible for the design flaws that increased the injuries from that crash.

Crash worthiness doctrine

The “safer production of goods is an ‘underlying principle’ of products liability law.” Smith v. Eli Lilly & Co., 137 Ill.2d 222, (1990). Indeed, Illinois courts have long recognized a distinction between a motor vehicle crash occurring and a person’s injuries being enhanced by a defective vehicle.  “[A]n auto manufacturer must foresee that its cars will sometimes be involved in accidents—and . . . provide consumers with reasonable protections under the circumstances surrounding particular accidents.”  Malen v. MTD Products, Inc., 628 F.3d 296, 311 (7th Cir. 2010) (applying Illinois law); citing Buehler v. Whalen, 70 Ill.2d 51 (1977)Mack v. Ford Motor Co., 283 Ill.App.3d 52 (1996)Oakes v. General Motor Corp., 257 Ill.App.3d 10 (1994)Bean v. Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft of Wolfsburg, Germany, 109 Ill.App.3d 333(1982).The premise underlying the crashworthiness doctrine is that some products, although not made for certain purposes—such as accidents—should nevertheless be reasonably designed to minimize the injury-producing effect of an accident. A defect is not merely the conclusion that the product failed and caused injury, but that the product failed to provide the consumer with reasonable protection under the circumstances surrounding a particular accident. The crashworthiness doctrine is consistent with the idea that although a defendant’s conduct is not a proximate cause if some intervening act supersedes the defendant’s negligence, a reasonably foreseeable intervening act, such as an accident, does not relieve the defendant of liability. 

Id. (citations omitted). 

Product Liability and the Crashworthiness Doctrine

Product liability refers to the legal responsibility that manufacturers, sellers, and distributors have for any injuries or damages caused by their products. In the context of defective product injury cases, the Crashworthiness Doctrine is a vital aspect of product liability law. This doctrine can be applied to various types of vehicles, such as cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and even aircraft.

When a product is found to be defective, and the defect leads to injury or death, the manufacturer may be held liable for damages under product liability law. In some cases, the doctrine of crashworthiness can be applied to determine whether the manufacturer has adequately designed and constructed the vehicle to protect its occupants in the event of an accident.

Examples of Defective Product Injury Cases Involving Crashworthiness

There are numerous examples of defective product injury cases involving the Crashworthiness Doctrine. Some common scenarios include:

  • Defective seat belts
  • Faulty airbags
  • Weak roof structures
  • Poorly designed crumple zones
  • Inadequate fuel system protection

In these cases, the court may determine that the vehicle’s design or construction was defective, and as a result, the occupants were not adequately protected during a crash. This could lead to a finding of liability on the part of the manufacturer.

What to Do If You've Been Injured Due to a Defective Vehicle

  1. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident and believe the vehicle’s crashworthiness may have contributed to the injury, it’s essential to take the following steps:
  2. Seek medical attention immediately.
  3. Document the accident and any relevant details.
  4. Preserve any evidence related to the accident, such as photographs or damaged vehicle parts.
  5. Consult with an experienced product liability attorney who can help you determine if you have a viable defective product injury claim.

By understanding the Crashworthiness Doctrine and its role in product liability law, individuals can better advocate for their rights in the event of an accident involving a defective vehicle. The pursuit of justice in these cases can help hold manufacturers accountable and encourage the production of safer vehicles in the future.