Rollover accidents have the highest fatality rate of any type of traffic accident. The issue of rollover accidents first captured the public's attention in the 1990s and early 2000s when it was revealed that Ford Explorers were prone to rollover accidents and were blamed for hundreds of deaths. Since then, stricter government oversight, as well as improved technologies, vehicle design, and safety features, have greatly decreased the risk of rollovers and the number of deaths and severe injuries caused by them. Unfortunately, more than a decade later, there are still thousands of motor vehicle crashes that result in a vehicle rollover. A National highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report shows that 18.9% of fatal crashes in 2014 (7,592 of 40,164) involved rollovers.
What is a rollover accident?
The term “rollover” describes a vehicle that experiences at least a 90-degree rotation around its longitudinal axis, regardless of whether the vehicle ends up laying on its side, roof, or even returning upright on all four wheels.
There are two types of rollovers: tripped and un-tripped. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that 95% of single-vehicle rollovers are tripped. A tripped rollover occurs when a SUV or other vehicle digs its tires into soft soil or strikes an object such as a curb or guardrail and leaves the roadway sliding sideways. Curbs, soft soil/shoulders, guardrails, uneven pavement surface, snow banks, and other objects can contribute to tripping. The force of the tires being tripped causes the rollover.
An un-tripped rollover occurs when a vehicle rolls over as the result of a driving maneuver without tripping over an object – in other words, when the tire/road interface friction is the only external force acting on a vehicle, thereby inducing it to roll over. Un-tripped rollovers are much rarer, occurring less than 5% of the time, and mostly to top-heavy vehicles during high-speed collision avoidance maneuvers.
Why are rollovers so deadly?
Rollovers have a higher fatality rate than other crashes because of roof cave-ins and the increased likelihood of people thrown from the vehicle. Rollover crashes often result in head injuries including traumatic brain injuries. Spinal cord injuries and back injuries are also common.
Statistics from the NHTSA show of the nearly 9.1 million passenger car, SUV, pickup and van crashes which occurred in 2010, only 2.1% involved a rollover. However, rollovers accounted for nearly 35% of all deaths from passenger vehicle crashes. Moreover, in 2010 alone, more than 7,600 people died in rollover crashes, with the majority of them (69%) not wearing safety belts.
Causes of Rollover Accidents and Determining Who is Legally Liable
Many factors can contribute to a rollover, including the vehicle type, road and traffic conditions, and driver behavior. In some cases, vehicle manufacturers can be held liable for injuries caused by faulty vehicle design or mechanical defects. In cases where an unsafe or improperly maintained road contributed to the accident, the municipality or entity responsible for the road may be held liable.
Driver Error – Many drivers of SUVs and other tall vehicles do not know how to handle their vehicles properly. Rollovers often occur because drivers overcorrect steering as a panicked reaction to an emergency. At high speeds the driver loses control and the vehicle slides sideways and rolls over. Speeding, driver distraction, and use of alcohol are other ways drivers contribute to rollovers.
Although the driver of the rolled vehicle may have taken some aggressive action that resulted in the rollover, it does not necessarily mean that they are liable for the accident or their injuries. Another party may be liable or partially liable if their negligent or reckless actions caused the driver of the rolled vehicle to take some action that resulted in the rollover.
Vehicle Type and Design and Manufacturing Defects - While any vehicle can roll over, some design elements, such as a high center of gravity or large size, increase the risk of a rollover. SUVs, minivans, 15-passenger vans, and pickup trucks all have a higher risk of rolling over. SUVs are three times more likely to roll over in an accident than passenger cars. Certain models of SUVs have more of a risk than others. Because the SUV is now a family car rather than just an off-road vehicle, car manufacturers often remove the roll bar that could protect vehicle occupants in a rollover situation. Some models of SUVs have weaker roofs than other models. Others do not have laminated glass that substantially reduces the risk of passengers being ejected in a rollover accident. Some manufacturers have attempted to improve the safety of their vehicles by making them more stable or adding new technology to help drivers maintain control. Other SUV manufacturers have chosen to avoid such safety measures. A vehicle manufacturer may be held fully or partly liable for a rollover accident if it can be shown that their vehicle has a mechanical or design defect, or that it lacked appropriate safety features (e.g. side airbags, reinforced roof, anti-rollover features, stability and traction systems, etc.), and that such defects or lack of safety features contributed to the rollover or caused greater injury than should have been the case.
Because of the high rollover rate of some vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration established a rollover rating in its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). The program rates vehicles to determine crash worthiness and rollover safety. The safety ratings are gathered during controlled crash and rollover tests conducted at NHTSA's research facilities. A vehicle's rollover resistance rating is an estimate of its risk of rolling over in a single-vehicle crash, not a prediction of the likelihood of a crash. The lowest-rated vehicles (1 star) are at least four times more likely to roll over than the highest-rated vehicles (5 stars) when involved in a single-vehicle crash. To view a rating of a particular vehicle, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration site.
Road Conditions - Other safety considerations in rollovers include location and road conditions. Rural areas with high speed limits account for more than half of all fatal rollovers. Flaws in road design or road maintenance may also contribute to rollovers. If there was some defect in the road that contributed to the accident, the government entity responsible for maintaining the road may be liable.
One serious psychological consequence often associated with rollover accidents is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To read more about this, please click here.
What should I do if I am in a rollover accident?
If you have been seriously injured in a rollover accident, you may have a personal injury case if you can prove that the collision was caused by the driver of another vehicle, a problem with an unsafe roadway, or a defect with the vehicle. If a family member has died from a rollover accident, a wrongful death lawsuit may be possible. Rollover accidents are complex in nature and determining who was liable for an accident requires considerable scientific, forensic, and legal analysis of numerous factors – therefore, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. You should not assume that you were at fault for the accident – an investigation may reveal that another driver, road conditions, or a design or mechanical problem with the vehicle contributed to the accident. Our law firm has extensive experience and the resources to handle rollover accident cases and obtain the maximum compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one were injured in a rollover accident, please contact us for a free, confidential, and no-obligation review of your potential legal claim and see how we can help!