Florida's Crashworthiness Doctrine

Florida's crashworthiness doctrine can apply to almost any car accident. In a typical car crash there are at least two drivers involved, and more likely than not, one of the drivers will be to blame. In that scenario the driver to blame should be held responsible for paying the victim the costs of the accident, including hospital bill, pain and suffering, and other associated costs. But in some cases victims of a car accident can be injured by the car because it was poorly designed, or because some part of the car did not work properly. It is situations like these where crashworthiness comes into play.

The Eighth Federal Circuit Court adopted the principle of crashworthiness in Larsen v. General Motors Corporation in 1968. The case was novel because the suit claimed that General Motors was liable for the driver's injuries because of a badly designed steering system. The system did not cause the accident, but according to the plaintiff in that case, it did increase and exacerbate his injuries because of its poor design. The manufacturer, of course, claimed no duty towards the driver to design a vehicle that is safe or safer than other cars during a car accident. Disagreeing, the court imposed the duty and as a result adopted the crashworthiness doctrine.

There were several reasons that the court decided to implement this rule. And most courts that following the decision rely on the same rationale, including:

  • There is no rational basis in limiting recovery for injuries to the original cause of the accident;
  • Secondary injuries from poorly designed vehicles are foreseeable to manufacturers; and
  • Car manufacturers are not required to design accident-proof vehicles, but they do have a duty to use reasonable care in their designs.

Ultimately, under this doctrine, car manufacturers are not liable for all of the damages that result in a car accident, but they are liable for the damages that result from unsafe and poorly designed parts of the car that cause injury.

Florida Adopts Crashworthiness Doctrine

It was not until 1976 that Florida adopted the crashworthiness doctrine, also known as the secondary injury doctrine. The case was Ford Motor Co. v. Evancho, and it basically adopted the entire doctrine as defined in the 1968 case. The Florida Supreme Court simply stated that manufacturers of automobiles will be held liable when a defect in car design causes injury, even if it is not the primary cause of the accident.

Knowing about the crashworthiness doctrine is important to car accident victims for several reasons. First, every car accident case, no matter how small, may involve more than one claim against more than one party. That means that there are more people responsible for an injury than a person may think at first. Of course that is why it is so important that accident victims contact a professional attorney with a practice dedicated to recovering for people injured in accidents. Another reason knowing about this doctrine is important is that the more car accident victims know about their case's potential avenues of recovery, the better. Car accidents can alter the lives of their victims. The more a victim can do to return their life to normalcy, the better off victims are.

The Pittman Firm can help victims of car accidents in the Panama City area. Our practice is dedicated to recovering for accidents of all kinds – from car crashes to products liability. Contact us if you have been injured in an accident.

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