Virginia: Car Crashes – a Lawyer’s Drownings

The Winter issue of The Trial Lawyer, the quarterly publication of The National Trial Lawyers “Top 100 Trial Lawyers,” features “THE VEHICLE SUBMERSION PROBLEM: THE ROLE OF DESIGN IN PREVENTING DROWNING DEATHS”. Id. at 24-27. Submersion deaths and catastrophic injuries most commonly result from car crashes and flooding incidents. Id. at 25.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) and research publications indicate upwards of 400-500 vehicle submersion death per year. Id. But estimators know that their figures or annual fatalities are low: for example, reports The Trial Lawyer, police may categorize vehicle submersion deaths as a drowning versus make out a vehicle accident report: drunk-driving incidents may be reported as such, particularly if the drunk driver survives; and when a fire department recovers the submerged vehicle, it is not reported as a vehicle submersion crash. Id.

Also, vehicle submersion accidents may present the special case of product (design) liability for the vehicle manufacturer, since occupant “escape can be affected by the type of glass in the side windows, a vehicle’s water-tightness, and the ability of power windows to work when exposed to water.” Id, at 24 Troublingly, notes The Trial Lawyer “new control systems, using a smart logic controller, when they get wet will stop working and prevent you from using the electric window controllers;” and new laminated glass side windows may not allow penetration and egress in submersions. Id. at 27.