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New Roof Crush Standards May Limit Lawsuits Against Auto Makers

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The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a new proposal on the table that requires all vehicles to have stronger roofs to protect occupants in rollover accidents. That’s a good thing, because 10,000 Americans die each year in rollover crashes alone and thousands more suffer major injuries that leave them disabled for life.

Well, this requirement could mean saving thousands of lives because the strength of a vehicle’s roof could make the difference between life and death in a rollover accident. The NHTSA currently conducts roof crush tests by pressing down on a plate placed against the edge of a vehicle’s roof. The roof must withstand a force equivalent to 1.5 times the weight of the vehicle, up to a limit of 5,000 pounds without the plate moving more than 5 inches, according to this article in Consumer Reports.

We’ve already said in previous blogs that this standard is still not adequate. Especially flawed are the tests conducted in determining this roof strength. The way they perform these tests are very different from the way accidents happen in real life. But a huge concern, from our point of view, is that a part of this proposal will limit consumer lawsuits against auto makers.

According to the news report, the language in this proposal may limit lawsuits against auto manufacturers. Under the new rule, injured occupants could not make a legal claim that auto manufacturers had any obligation to make the roofs stronger than what is required by the standard – even where state courts had previously held manufacturers to a stricter standard.

What does this mean for the average consumer? It simply means that many cases involving crushed roofs could be dismissed without trial because this federal regulation, whose standards are still weak, would preempt them. This would be a horrible injustice to consumer rights and a free pass for auto makers to continue to make the poor products that have hurt so many people.

Our firm has represented numerous consumers who have died as a result of SUV rollovers and the weak roof caving in. The roof basically crushes the occupants – snapping their spine, causing serious head injuries and paralysis. These consumers have been shortchanged not only by auto makers such as Ford and General Motors who aren’t willing to spend $30 more per vehicle to make that roof stronger, but also by our own government that does not want to hold them accountable for their products.

Auto makers put profits before people, but NHTSA has caused harm with its inaction on the roof crush standard for more than 25 years. We urge you to write to our government officials to not pass this regulation that will basically take away consumer rights and absolve industry giants of responsibility if they don’t build roofs as strong as they are able. To view the full proposal, please visit this site.

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