In this case, an automotive design expert was brought in by the plaintiff to examine the safety of the pickup truck he was driving during a severe accident. The plaintiff was driving a 1993 pickup heavy duty truck when he was involved in a three-vehicle accident on a two-lane highway. The driver of another pickup was traveling in the opposite direction and crossed the center line, striking plaintiff’s vehicle. A car traveling behind plaintiff underrode the rear of the plaintiff’s vehicle. According to black box data, all three vehicles were travelling 43 mph, below the 50 mph limit.
The crash forced plaintiff’s vehicle partially off the road and into a ditch, where it burst into flames. As a result of the crash, the engine compartment and dash intruded into the plaintiff’s lap, trapping him. He was freed by rescue workers a short time later and flown to the hospital. He suffered multiple traumatic injuries, including numerous fractures, and burns over 40 percent of his body, including his face and head. His lower leg and forearm were amputated, and he underwent numerous surgeries.
He alleges that he survived the head-on crash but that the truck’s unsafe design led to him being trapped and the fuel-fed fire that caused his horrific injuries. He seeks more than $10 million in medical expenses and $8 million in economic damages.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
1. Was the vehicle design safe?
2. Does it differ from similar vehicles in its class?
Expert Witness Response
The majority of the accident damage to the plaintiff’s truck was from the frontal impact with the other truck. I disagree with the plaintiff’s assessment that his truck is defective in design.
Based on accident reconstruction analysis performed by another expert, the change in velocity or the delta V experienced in the offending truck is computed to be 37 to 39mph while the delta V experienced in the plaintiff’s truck is computed between 43 to 45mph. When comparing this crash to all frontal crashes, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) places this crash in the very severe region. Based on cumulative delta V, almost all other crashes happening in the roadways can be placed below the severity of the delta V encountered in the plaintiff’s truck. The severity level experienced by his truck has a high probability of resulting in fatal injuries for occupants. The fact that he survived proves that this vehicle is safe and managed the crash energy well.
Similar to all vehicles in its class, the plaintiff’s truck used a body-on-frame architecture. This type of construction allows these vehicles to be used as work trucks. The factors that influence the road load and durability characteristics of these trucks also make them perform well in a crash scenario. The entire industry was following similar design practices in the construction of pickup trucks at this time.
The plaintiff’s expert has overlooked several key attributes. I disagree with his opinion. The truck design is safe for reasonable crash scenarios.
The design of this pick-up truck, including its body, chassis, restraints, steering and other interior systems, such as instrument panels and seats, are reasonably safely designed for their intended use and are not defective. Additionally the design, testing and manufacturing standards and processes are reasonable, generally accepted in the automotive industry and state of the art."