Imagine surviving the shock and trauma of a sudden collision only to discover that the impact of the accident caused a raging fire in your vehicle that is now burning out of control. This is the terrifying reality that countless drivers face each year, including several individuals in a recent accident in Florida. In that case, the vehicles were so badly burnt that law enforcement officials fear they may never discover why the vehicles veered off the road.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 152,300 automobile fires per year in a five-year study. NFPA statistics indicate that vehicular fires cause hundreds of deaths, countless injuries and $536 million in direct property damage.
A historic problem
Since the invention of the automobile more than 100 years ago, manufacturers have grappled with the danger of impact-related fires. The basic problem is that every gasoline-fueled automobile requires a tank to carry the fuel that is consumed by the car’s combustion engine. When an accident occurs, the tank is often ruptured, spilling flammable fuel everywhere. In addition, components of the fuel injection system, which deliver fuel to the engine, can also be damaged, spreading fuel throughout the accident area. Any one of these events can create an imminent risk of fire and explosion, from which trapped accident victims often have no chance of escape.
To remedy this issue, automobile manufacturers have instituted a number of improvements to their fuel tanks, including:
- Altering the structural design of the fuel tanks
- Relocating tanks to more protected areas of the car
- Placing shields and barriers in front of or around the tank
- Using bladder liners inside the tanks
These measures have been introduced with varying degrees of success. If recent recalls are any indication, design fixes have not been completely successful in eliminating the risk of fuel fed fires. In a recent incident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) demanded that Chrysler recall two Jeep models based on fuel tank placement, which it deemed a major hazard in rear-end crash due to the risk of fuel leaks and fire. NHTSA data indicates that rear-end crashes involving the two Jeep models have already killed 51 people.
Those injured or affected by an automobile accident-induced fire should seek the assistance of legal experts who are trained to determine whether faulty fuel tanks may have played a role. A qualified car accident attorney will know which experts to talk to for any given case.