Vehicle gas tank explosions are responsible for numerous deaths in the United States. Product liability actions involving gas tank explosions generally allege that the injuries the plaintiffs incurred in an accident were made worse because the defective design of the gas tank made it more likely that the gas tank would explode. Actions alleging defective gas tanks usually allege that the gas tank was improperly designed, that it was improperly located on the vehicle, or that the manufacturer failed to warn vehicle owners of the dangers associated with the gas tank or its placement. However, vehicle manufacturers are not required to produce a gas tank that is incapable of exploding.
In analyzing defective fuel tank cases, some courts have ruled that vehicle manufacturers do not have a duty to make gas tanks crashworthy because the vehicles were intended to be driven, not crashed. In more recent cases, nearly every court has rejected the “no duty” theory. Instead, the more recent rulings have determined that vehicle manufacturers have a duty to act reasonably in designing a gas tank. Thus, the fuel tanks must not present an unreasonable risk of worsening injuries incurred in collisions.
Side Saddle Design
In recent years, a large number of gas tank explosions have occurred in trucks equipped with a side saddle fuel tank. These tanks are mounted outside the body chassis frames of the truck. From 1973 to 2000, more than 1,800 people were killed in fire crashes involving trucks with side saddle fuel tank design.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against car manufacturers who have used the side saddle design. Plaintiffs in these suits allege that the side saddle design makes the gas tanks more vulnerable and, thus, more likely to explode when the vehicle is struck on the side. In addition, plaintiffs allege that the manufacturers knew that the design was unsafe after learning of crash reports and failed to issue a recall of the cars. The majority of suits stemming from exploding side saddle gas tanks have settled out of court. One case that went to a jury resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff in excess of $100 million.
In response to the controversy surrounding the side saddle design, federal safety officials have investigated the tanks. If the investigation concludes that the design is defective, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can order a recall of all vehicles with side saddle gas tanks.
Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.