Simply put, the Crashworthiness Doctrine says that auto manufacturers are liable for injuries caused by a vehicle’s poor performance after an automobile crash. The doctrine arises when an accident victim reports two distinct injury-producing events. The first injury-producing event is the initial car crash. The second injury-producing event occurs when a defective car part malfunctions in an unpredictable way after the initial impact.
For example, in the Florida Supreme Court case D’Amario v. Ford Motor Co., the plaintiff was a passenger in a car that crashed into a tree, and evidence showed that the driver’s intoxication caused the initial crash. However, after the crash, the car burst into flames due to an allegedly defective relay switch. This second event (the car bursting into flames) resulted in severe injuries to the plaintiff, including burns and the loss of three limbs.
All parties agreed that the vehicle’s driver was responsible for the injuries arising out of the initial collision. However, the issue before the court in the D’Amario case was whether the jury was allowed to consider the driver’s negligence in apportioning liability for the injuries caused by the explosion, which was triggered by a defective relay switch. In other words, should an auto manufacturer be solely responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries that were caused by a post-crash malfunction?
In D’Amario, the Florida Supreme Court held that automakers are responsible for making cars reasonably crashworthy. For that reason, a car’s manufacturer is solely responsible for injuries caused by post-crash product malfunctions.
The Florida Senate’s bill, CS/SB 142, would overturn the Supreme Court’s holding in D’Amario. The bill states, in relevant part, that in “in a products liability action alleging that injuries received by a claimant in an accident were enhanced by a defective product, the trier of fact shall consider the fault of all persons who contributed to the accident when apportioning fault between or among them.” Thus, if Bill CS/SB 142 becomes law, in cases like the D’Amario, a jury could consider the fault of the intoxicated driver, along with the fault of the auto manufacturer, in apportioning liability.