Product Liability Civil Charges

5.40E – Crashworthiness — Special Issues


Crashworthiness is defined as the ability of a motor vehicle to protect its passengers from enhanced injuries after a collision. Crashworthiness has also been defined as the protection a motor vehicle gives its passengers against personal injury or death from a motor vehicle accident. If injuries from a “second collision” of some part of the car intruding into the occupant’s compartment space or the occupant being propelled outside of a safe survival space were avoidable, or could have been reduced or lessened by a reasonable alternative design, then the motor vehicle would not be crashworthy. Strict liability is imposed on a manufacturer for injuries sustained in an accident involving a design or manufacturing defect that enhanced the injuries the occupants suffer although the defect did not cause the accident. Enhanced injury refers to the degree by which a defect, which I have already defined for you, aggravates collision injuries beyond those that would have been sustained because of the impact or collision absent the defect. A manufacturer or designer’s liability is premised upon their legal duty to design and manufacture a reasonably crashworthy vehicle.

Since accidents or collisions, no matter who was at fault or who caused the accident, are a foreseeable part of use of vehicles, reasonably designed, properly functioning safety devices or designs may be required to make a vehicle crashworthy.

You must determine whether the vehicle as designed was or was not crashworthy based on the principles of reasonable, safer alternative designs that I have already given you. If you find that there were reasonable, safer alternative designs that should have been, but were not used in this vehicle that would have improved the protection it gave its occupants against personal injury or death from a foreseeable motor vehicle accident, then you will have found this vehicle uncrashworthy. On the other hand, if you find that there were not reasonable, alternative designs that would have improved the ability of this vehicle to protect its occupants in case of a collision, then you will have found in favor of the defendant car manufacturer or designer on the issue of crashworthiness.

You must remember in deciding this issue that your focus must not be on who or what caused the accident. Instead, to evaluate the design issue properly you must focus your deliberations on how and why the occupants of the vehicle suffered enhanced injury or death in the collision and whether reasonable alternative safety devices would have lessened or decreased the likelihood of injury or death after a collision.


If you decide that the defendant’s vehicle was not reasonably crashworthy, then you must decide the extent of the passengers’ or occupants’ enhanced injuries. If under all of the circumstances here you find that the occupants would have suffered lesser injuries with a reasonably safer alternative design, then the car manufacturer/designer is liable for the occupants’ increased injuries. On the other hand, if you find that the occupants would have suffered the same or greater injuries even with reasonably safer alternative designs, then the vehicle’s safety defect or lack of crashworthiness caused no enhanced injuries and defendants are not liable.

If you find that the plaintiff has proven there were reasonably safer alternative designs required to make this vehicle crashworthy, then you must determine whether the plaintiff also proved that those designs would have lessened the occupant’s ultimate crash injury to some extent. If you find the plaintiff met that burden, you will find in favor of the plaintiff because the plaintiff need not have quantified or put a percentage on the extent to which the design or manufacturing defects added to all of the plaintiff’s final injuries.

If the defendant vehicle manufacturer/designer claims that all or part of the injuries would have occurred anyway, then the defendant, and not the occupant of the vehicle, has the burden of proving what part/percentage of the plaintiff occupant’s injuries would have occurred even if reasonable alternative safer designs had been supplied in their vehicle. If the defendant can prove that an apportionment can be reasonably made, separating those injuries the occupant would have suffered anyway, even in a crashworthy vehicle, from those enhanced injuries the plaintiff occupant suffered due to the absence of reasonably safer designs, then the defendant’s liability would be limited only to that portion/percentage of the injuries the defendant proves is related to the plaintiff’s increased or enhanced harm. On the other hand, if you find that the defendant car manufacturer/designer has not met its burden of proving that plaintiff’s injuries can be reasonably apportioned, then the defendant would be responsible for all of the occupant’s harm or injury.

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