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Attorney Van O'Steen

Swift Family Car Fire Raises Questions of Crashworthiness

Van O'Steen

June 6, 2012

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Buckeye, Arizona—The tragic deaths of Jerry and Selene Swift, their 13 year old son, Jerry, Jr., and Roger Keasling in a car fire that ignited when they were rear-ended by an SUV near Buckeye, Arizona last Saturday, raises serious questions about the crashworthiness of the sedan the victims occupied. Ordinarily, even relatively high speed rear-end impacts do not result in explosive fires, trapping passengers inside.

Crashworthiness is an industry and legal term that pertains to how well a vehicle is designed and manufactured in order to protect its occupants when a crash occurs. Vehicle manufacturers have a legal duty to design and build crashworthy vehicles. When a vehicle is not sufficiently crashworthy, and passengers are injured or killed in an accident, Arizona law permits the victims, or the heirs of those deceased, to recover for their losses from the vehicle manufacturer and others who may have contributed to the vehicle’s defects.

Defective fuel tanks are among the manufacturing and design components that can cause unnecessary and devastating outcomes for passengers. Fuel tank defects may include tearing, punctures, fuel line separation and filter cap dislocation.

In accident cases where an automobile design or manufacturing defect is suspected, it is essential that the vehicle be preserved so it can be thoroughly inspected by engineering experts in the field of crashworthiness. Law enforcement investigations rarely probe the causes of an accident or its consequences in a manner sufficient to determine crashworthiness liability.

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