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RI Product Liability Lawyer | Ford Expedition Deadly in Rollover Accidents

This Product Liability Article was authored by John Bisnar. This Article was approved by Rhode Island Personal Injury Attorney, David Slepkow 401-437-1100,

Like many other SUVs, the Ford Expedition has proven to be defectively designed and extremely deadly when involved in a rollover accident.

Although designed to be driven off road, the Expedition is not equipped with sufficient roof support, adequate door latches, or laminated glass, that could mean the difference between life and death in a rollover accident. Engineers and safety experts have actively suggested fundamental changes to the Expedition to increase its rollover resistance, however Ford Motor Co. continues to choose less expensive and less effective remedies as permanent solutions to a life threatening issue.

Rollovers accounted for over 10,000 fatalities in the United States in 2004. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rollover accidents are more likely to result in fatalities than other types of accidents. In 2004, about 2.7 percent of occupants involved in rollover accidents were fatally injured. That same year, only 0.2 percent of occupants involved in accidents that did not involve rollovers were fatally injured. This means 33 percent of all passenger vehicle occupant fatalities in 2004, occurred in accidents that involved a rollover.

Due to its high center of gravity, the Ford Expedition is disproportionately prone to rollovers when compared to other passenger vehicles. If a vehicle has a higher center of gravity and is quickly redirected (as when a vehicle driver tries to avoid a sudden obstruction) the vehicle can topple and rollover. The Expedition holds excessive weight at a higher level than other passenger vehicles leading to handling and stability defects. Because the Expedition is top-heavy, it is prone to heavy oversteering by drivers, making a rollover accident likely.

One of the biggest dangers to Ford Expedition occupants in the event of a rollover accident is roof intrusion. Roof intrusion or “roof crush” refers to a situation when the roof of a vehicle does not maintain its shape during a rollover and is crushed or collapses, seriously injuring vehicle occupants. The extreme weight of the Ford Expedition in combination with a weak roof design makes the SUV prone to severe roof intrusion during a rollover accident.

In the event of a rollover, the roof pillars, front roof header, and side roof rails of the Ford Expedition often collapse and invade the occupant safety zone. When this happens, the roof of the Expedition is usually forced down onto the top of occupants’ heads often causing brain contusions. Furthermore, the forces are often transferred to the spine causing a fracture to the cervical neck. This type of spinal cord injury usually results in paraplegia, quadriplegia or death. According to the Crash Injury Research & Engineering Network (CIREN), the roof of a passenger vehicle is the source of over half (56 percent) of all head injuries and one-third (33 percent) of all spinal cord injuries in rollover accidents.

Problems with the design of some vehicle doors have been brought under great scrutiny in recent years. Shouldn’t vehicle doors be manufactured in a way that is strong enough to withstand the impact of a real accident? Absolutely! Vehicle doors are considered a key element of the overall structural strength and protection that an automobile should, and is required by law, provide to its occupants. Unfortunately, many vehicles are equipped with doors that are not strong enough to bear the pressure endured during a rollover accident.

In the event of a rollover accident, the strength of the torsion spring that is designed to hold the door latches or door locks shut may not be strong enough to perform as intended. The torsion spring controls the amount of force required to release the safety grip of the vehicle handle and open the door. The safety grip is created by the outward pressure of the torsion spring against the latch claw mechanism. Its primary purpose is to hold the vehicle door in its closed position. The door latch or door lock problem occurs when the torsion spring is too weak to maintain the safety grip under extended amounts of pressure  – such as the pressure that is endured during a rollover accident- and allows the vehicle door to open exposing the occupants to much greater levels of injury.

The Ford Expedition is equipped with defective door latches. During a rollover accident the excessive weight of the Expedition increases the pressures and forces applied to the side doors of the vehicle. The door latches of the Expedition are too weak to hold the doors shut during the rollover, creating an opportunity for occupant ejection or partial ejection from the vehicle. In the event of a rollover accident, the door latch fails allowing the door to open during the event and exposes the occupant to deadly objects and impacts outside the safety of the vehicle.

On May 23, 2004, a 10-year-old boy from Texas endured fatal injuries when he was partially ejected from a Ford Expedition in a rollover accident. The boy’s name was Matthew Morroquin. Matthew was seated in the driver’s side third row seat when the Expedition was hit by another vehicle. The Expedition was struck in the rear quarter on the passenger side causing it to rollover one and one-quarter times. All of the occupants in the Expedition, including 10-year-old Matthew, were properly restrained by seatbelts at the time of the accident. During the accident, the rear window glass shattered leaving Matthew unprotected from ejection out of the vehicle window. The 10-year-old boy was partially ejected through the unprotected window opening causing his head to be crushed between the vehicle and the ground. The boys fatal injuries may have been avoided had the Expedition been equipped with stronger side window glass.

Laminated or glazed glass has been in use for about 60 years. This industrial strength glass is like a glass-plastic-glass sandwich. An acoustic-grade interlayer, composed of three layers of acoustic polyvinyl butyral (PVB), is laminated between two sheets of glass creating a stronger, more flexible, and lighter product. Laminated glass provides over 10 times the intrusion resistance of the traditional tempered glass and is about 4 pounds lighter than non-laminated glass.

Studies show that vehicle occupants are five times as likely to endure fatal injuries when ejection is a factor in an automobile accident. If the Ford Expedition in the May 23, 2004 rollover accident were equipped with laminated side glass, 10-year-old Matthew Morroquin would probably be alive today. Although it is widely used in other vehicle models in the United States, laminated or glazed side glass in not used in any of the Expedition models. The use of laminated side glass would help prevent occupant ejection and multitudes of injuries and deaths that result from vehicle ejection.

Automotive engineers have long agreed that injuries are reduced dramatically if the occupants are secured within the safety zone of a rolling vehicle without severe intrusion. The technology to ensure this level of safety has been available for years. However, little action has been taken to implement the necessary changes.

On July 6, 1968, Mr. J.R. Weaver, a safety engineer for Ford, submitted an internal memo titled “Roof Strength Study” to Ford Motor Co. In the memo, Weaver stated that “people are injured by roof collapse” and he suggests that some rollover accidents are so severe that the basic roof design would have to be altered to withstand the impact. Don Huelke, another noted engineer, stated that the amount of roof intrusion is directly attributed to the severity of non-ejected occupant injuries.

In the spring of 2000, Ford engineers recommended that the company launch a recall campaign to fix defective door handles for over 4 million Ford vehicles, including Expedition models years 1997-2000. Ford engineers advised that the design and manufacture of stronger springs and the installation of a counterweight was necessary to keep the Expedition doors shut. The cost would have been 99 cents per door. Unfortunately for consumers, Ford’s investigation found that such a recall would cost about $527 million to fix all the defective door handles and decided to disregard the safety advice of their engineers.

With approximately 300,000 rollover accidents and over 10,000 rollover fatalities occurring every year in the United States, rollover accidents are possibly the most significant safety issues concerning passenger vehicle occupants. The Ford Expedition is a major contributor to the number of vehicle rollover deaths. Due to its defective design, the Expedition can be very unstable and therefore prone to rollover accidents. Research suggests that stronger roofs, stronger door latches, and stronger window glass would tremendously improve the safety of Expedition occupants.

Most auto manufacturers consciously refuse to take the corrective action necessary to save hundreds of vehicle occupant lives, preferring instead to make a cheaper product and increase their profit margins. Our federal regulatory agencies do not have the guts to mandate improved safety standards. Consumers are therefore left to better investigate what they are buying and sue for redress when they have been duped.

John Bisnar:

John Bisnar is a partner at Newport Beach Personal Injury Law Firm Bisnar Chase. The Bisnar Chase law firm has dedicated their practice to victims of serious injuries due to defective products, negligence and malpractice.

Legal Notice per Rules of Professional Responsibility: The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer / attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice. While this firm maintains joint responsibility, most cases of this type are referred to other attorneys for principle responsibility.

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