Motor vehicle accidents, while unfortunate, are foreseeable. Manufacturers of motor vehicles know this. Most motor vehicle collisions are survivable. Manufacturers have a duty to design vehicles that will not catch on fire after a collision occurs.
Three things must be present for a post collision fire to occur: 1) Fuel, 2) Oxygen and 3) a source of ignition. The second element, oxygen, is always present as this exists naturally in the environment. In a post collision situation, there are several fuel sources that come into play. The most obvious of these is gasoline or diesel fuel. These liquids are highly combustible. However, transmission fluid, brake fluid and motor oil are also combustible.
The average temperature on the surface of the manifold of an ordinary passenger car is 1200 to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, the lowest ignition point of any of the fluids named above is only approximately 700 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it is imperative for manufacturers of motor vehicles to design systems which ensure that, in a crash, none of these fluids come into contact with the manifold or any part of the electrical system of the car that could ignite a fire.
Obviously, the post collision fire hazard that has received the most attention is the fuel system. This includes the fuel tank, fuel line connectors, fuel line and the fuel pump. Defects in these components have been widely reported. The most well-known examples are the Ford Pinto of the 1970s and the design of the fuel tanks of general motors’ pickups, which were located outside the frame rails. However, there have been instances of post collusion fuel fed fires caused by the other fluids already discussed, such as transmission fluid, brake fluid and motor oil.
According to statistics gathered by the National Fire Protection Association, there were 287,000 vehicle fires annually from 2003 to 2007. This data showed that approximately 31 highway vehicle fires were reported each hour killing, on average, one person a day. Fortunately, design improvements to motor vehicles have lessened to some degree the occurrence of post collision fuel fed fires. However, this hazard remains a serious problem.
At Jinks, Crow & Dickson we have represented a number of clients who were either killed or seriously injured because of post collision fuel fed fires. These cases involved circumstances where the victim survived the initial crash, but was then either killed or badly burned because of a post collision fuel fed fire. It requires significant resources and experience to successfully handle these cases. The cause and origin of these fires usually has to be proved by expert testimony. Moreover, we usually retain a biomechanical expert to prove, by scientific means, that death was caused by the fire and not by the initial crash. In addition to the expense and commitment of time that these cases require, they also place a great emotional toll on the clients, eyewitnesses and the lawyer. Being trapped in a car that is on fire is one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person. We are always sensitive and respectful of the feelings of our clients and the witnesses as we work through the litigation process in a post collision fuel fed fire case.
We will continue to commit our time and resources to diligently representing victims of dangerous products. This includes motor vehicles that expose their occupants to a risk of a post collision fuel fed fire.