Lawsuits for SUV Rollover Accidents

SUV rollover accidents have higher rates of serious injury and death. When victims are injured in SUV rollover accidents, they can seek compensatory damages from the driver who caused the accident. In some cases, the injury victims may have a products liability claim against the car company for selling a dangerous vehicle without properly warning consumers.

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about rollover accidents collisions:

If you have further questions about SUV rollover accidents after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. Can I file a lawsuit after I was injured in an SUV rollover accident?

A driver, passenger, or anyone else injured in an SUV rollover accident can file a personal injury lawsuit against the individual or group responsible for the accident. If a negligent driver caused the accident, the negligent driver would be liable for any damages caused. If the accident was caused by a defective car part, the manufacturer or seller may be liable for damages.

In a personal injury or product liability lawsuit, the injured party is seeking compensation for their damages. Damages may include:

In a deadly SUV rollover accident, the family members of the deceased may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In a wrongful death claim, the family can hold the person responsible for the death liable for their actions and seek compensation for the family's loss.

2. What compensation can I get after a rollover accident lawsuit?

Compensation after an injury accident is supposed to put the injured person back into a similar position they would have been if the accident had not happened. It may be impossible to fix the injury victim's problems with money alone but this is what compensatory damages are intended to do.

Compensatory damages in an injury accident lawsuit include both “economic” and “non-economic” damages. Economic damages generally represent damages that have a fixed cost, like hospital bills or lost wages. Non-economic damages are supposed to compensate the injury victim for harms that are harder to put a dollar value on, like suffering painful injuries or having to live with scars for the rest of their lives.

Compensatory damages in an SUV rollover accident lawsuit may include:

  • Ambulance bills,
  • Surgery bills,
  • Hospital bills,
  • Prescription medications,
  • Medical supplies,
  • Physical therapy,
  • In-home care,
  • Lost income,
  • Loss of consortium,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Emotional pain,
  • Loss of enjoyment, and
  • Court fees.

3. Are SUVs more likely to roll over than other cars?

SUVs can be more likely to roll over than other types of vehicles. There are a number of factors which increase the risk of a rollover accident, including vehicle type, size, and shape. SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans are taller than most passenger cars. Vehicles with a higher center of gravity are more likely to roll over when involved in a single-vehicle crash.1

Rollovers are categorized as either tripped or untripped. Almost 95% of single-vehicle rollover accidents are tripped.2 When a vehicle with a higher center of gravity loses contact with the road, including hitting a curb, the vehicle has an increased risk of flipping over. Common tripped rollovers involve the SUV hitting an obstacle or change in surface material, including:

  • Guardrails
  • Curbs
  • Soft Soil
  • Snow Banks
  • Unpaved Surfaces

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests vehicles and rates them based on rollover risk. Some of the most popular SUVs in the country have higher than average rollover risks. Among the 2016 models with a three out of five-star rating for rollover risk were the following SUVs.

  • Dodge Durango
  • GMC Yukon
  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Ford Expedition
  • Jeep Renegade
  • Chevrolet Suburban
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Jeep Patriot
  • Lincoln Navigator
  • Chevrolet Tahoe
  • Toyota 4Runner3

4. Who is to responsible for the rollover accident?

The person or group responsible for a rollover accident depends on what happened before the rollover. Most rollover accidents are caused by one of the following:

  • Negligent drivers getting into an accident that causes an SUV to rollover
  • SUV drivers causing an accident
  • Poor road conditions
  • Road debris
  • Improper road signage or traffic signals
  • Defective tires or other defective car parts
  • SUV design defects

In a personal injury claim for damages, the injured plaintiff generally needs to show the defendant's negligence caused the accident. Under California negligence law, when an accident is caused by negligence, the negligent party can be liable for injuries and damages.The elements of negligence are:

  1. The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached his or her duty of care; and
  3. The defendant's breach was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injuries.4

When the injury victim shows the defendant breached his or her duty of car that caused the accident, the defendant will be liable for the injuries caused.

4.1. Another driver caused the accident.

As with any car accident, the driver who caused the crash is generally liable to those injured for their damages. This includes injuries suffered by other drivers, as well as people involved in a motorcycle accident or a bicycle accident.

Most drivers believe they can handle a car accident claim by themselves. However, when the accident involved an SUV rollover, there may be more serious injuries involved. Without a lawyer, injury victims only have the insurance company to work with. But insurance adjuster's primary job is to delay or deny auto accident claims so the injured driver will accept any settlement offer they can get.

SUV rollover accidents generally have more at stake for the injured drivers and passengers. This may mean higher medical bills, more lost wages, expensive car repairs, as well as pain and suffering. Experienced California personal injury lawyers know the insurance companies' tricks and will uncover all the evidence to help their clients get their full compensation.

4.2. Swerving to avoid an accident caused the rollover.

When an SUV driver sees an accident ahead or some roadway debris, the driver may have to swerve to avoid causing an accident. However, swerving to avoid an accident in an SUV can actually cause an accident.

With an SUV's high center of gravity, a sharp or quick turn can cause the tires to lose contact with the road, causing it to tumble. When an SUV rolls over on a busy highway, it may cause additional collisions with other cars, increasing the risk of serious injury or death.

4.3. The vehicle design flaw caused the rollover accident.

Car manufacturers are aware of the problems facing SUVs and rollover accidents. A report by Frontline found that in 2002, there were an almost 70,000 SUV rollover accidents. These accidents lead to tens of thousands of injuries and an estimated 2,000 deaths.

Other vehicle defects may increase the risk of a rollover accident, including accidents caused by tire defects in California. A defective tire can blowout at high speed, causing the driver to lose control of the SUV. Losing contact with just one tire can cause the SUV to topple over, resulting in a serious rollover accident. Other defective parts, like defective brakes, accelerators, or steering systems can also increase the risk of a rollover accident in an SUV.

5. Is the vehicle manufacturer liable for rollover accidents?

Most consumers don't know if the motor company manufacturers were negligent in how they designed, manufactured, or sold the SUV. However, under California's “product liability” laws, the plaintiff does not have to show who was individually responsible for the defect.

In a product liability claim, there is strict liability for the parties who designed, manufactured, or sold the defective product. Under strict liability, the car company, distributor, or dealership could be liable for any injuries caused by the defective SUV.

Because the person who bought the vehicle does not know the specifics of how the SUV was designed and tested, the plaintiff can file a product liability claim without having to show that any one person or group was negligent. In a product defect lawsuit, the plaintiff can seek damages for

5.1. Strict Liability for SUV Rollover Accidents

In a product liability case, the plaintiff does not have to show the vehicle manufacturer was negligent. If an SUV is a defective product, then the plaintiff only has to show that the SUV was defective in the way it was designed, manufactured, or if there were not proper warnings given.

In a lawsuit for damages against the car company, distributor, or dealership, the plaintiff has to prove the following elements of product liability:

  1. The defendant designed, manufactured, distributed or sold a defective vehicle;
  2. The vehicle contained the defect when it left the defendant's possession;
  3. The plaintiff used the SUV in a reasonably foreseeable manner; and
  4. The plaintiff suffered an injury or harm as a result of the defect.6

5.2. Manufacturing Defects

Manufacturing defects are problems that occur during the production. For an SUV, this may involve putting on the wrong part, failing to tighten a part correctly, or using the wrong materials during production. Manufacturing defects are defined as something that occurs during production that causes a product to differ from either:

  • The manufacturer's specifications or design, or
  • Other standard units of the same production line.7

For a plaintiff to show liability for a manufacturing defect on an SUV, the plaintiff must prove:

  1. The defendant manufactured, distributed or sold the SUV;
  2. The SUV contained a manufacturing defect when it left the defendant's possession;
  3. The plaintiff suffered an injury; and
  4. The SUV's defect was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.8

5.3. Design Defects

SUVs may suffer from a design defect that allows them to more easily roll over than other vehicles. A design defect involves either:

  • The SUV failing to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect, or
  • The benefits of the SUV's design do not outweigh the risk of danger inherent in such a top-heavy design.9

Whether the SUV fails to perform as safely as expected is the “consumer expectation test.” Under the consumer expectation test, for the plaintiff to recover damages in a defective SUV design claim, he or she has to show:

  1. The defendant manufactured, distributed, or sold the SUV;
  2. The SUV did not perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected when used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable way;
  3. The plaintiff was harmed; and
  4. The SUV's failure to perform safely was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.10

5.4. Warning Defects

Car companies are aware of the problems with SUVs and rollover accidents and have been for years. If the car companies know about the rollover problems, they should at least give consumers proper warnings about the dangers involved in driving an SUV.

Selling an SUV to the consumer without the proper warnings can be considered a type of product defect. To recover damages for a failure to warn defect claim for an SUV rollover accident, the plaintiff must show:

  1. The defendant manufactured, distributed or sold the SUV;
  2. The SUV had potential rollover risks that were known or knowable by the defendant;
  3. The rollover risks presented a substantial danger when the product was used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable way;
  4. Ordinary consumers would not have recognized the potential risks;
  5. The defendant failed to adequately warn consumers of the potential risk of rollovers; and
  6. The plaintiff was harmed as a result of the inadequate warnings.11

6. SUV Rollover Accident Injuries

Injuries in an SUV rollover accident can depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Vehicle speed,
  • Multiple vehicles involved,
  • Type of vehicle,
  • Seat belts,
  • Airbags,
  • Where the accident occurred,
  • Age of the passengers, and
  • Other factors.

When an SUV rolls over, the vehicle occupants are thrown around inside the vehicle, often striking multiple surfaces and are exposed to dangers from multiple sides. Some of the most serious rollover accidents involve the roof being crushed, which can be fatal to the driver and passengers.

Other serious rollover accidents leave the occupants trapped inside the vehicle. The longer the victims are trapped, the more serious their injuries may become, including the risks of burns or bleeding to death. The outcome of these accidents may depend on how quickly emergency crews can free the occupants and get them emergency medical treatment.

Safety features like seat belts and airbags can increase the chances of surviving any serious car accident. Some SUVs now have additional safety features, like rollover airbags, variable ride-height, and electronic stability control (ESC) to improve rollover safety. However, even with these safety features, an SUV rollover accident can result in serious, life-threatening injuries, including:

  • Head injury
  • Back injury
  • Paralysis
  • Neck injury
  • Broken bones
  • Internal injuries
  • Burns
  • Loss of a limb

7. Can I win a personal injury case against the big car companies?

If you have a strong case, you can win a personal injury case against the big car companies. However, the car companies will assert a number of defenses to avoid paying out damages in a lawsuit. Defenses to a defective SUV claim may include:

  • The SUV was not defective as designed;
  • There were no manufacturing defects in the SUV;
  • The plaintiff misused the SUV;
  • The plaintiff drove the SUV in an unforeseeable way;
  • The plaintiff caused the accident; or
  • The car company was unaware there were any problems with the SUV.

If the car company claims the plaintiff caused the accident, the plaintiff may still be able to recover damages. Under California's “comparative fault” law, the plaintiff can still recover damages even if he or she shares some level of fault in causing the accident.

When the plaintiff is partly to blame for the accident, damages may be reduced based on the plaintiff's level of fault. For example, if the car company is 70% at fault for failing to warn consumers about the rollover risk and the plaintiff is 30% at fault for the rollover accident, the plaintiff may be able to recover 70% of damages from the car company.

8. Should I file a lawsuit if my loved one was killed in a rollover accident?

Rollover accidents have a higher rate of fatality than other types of accidents.12 Only about 2% of motor vehicle accidents involve a rollover. However, rollovers account for almost 35% of all vehicle crash deaths. In 2010, over 7,600 people died in rollover accidents.13

Unfortunately, when a spouse or child is killed in a rollover accident, he or she is unable to file a claim to hold the driver or car manufacturer responsible. However, family members who have lost a loved one in an SUV rollover accident can file a wrongful death lawsuit to hold the responsible party liable for their actions.14

Under California's wrongful death law, certain family members can file a wrongful death claim for damages, including:

  • Spouse or partner;
  • Children;
  • Grandchildren (if the children are deceased); or
  • Anyone else who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by California intestate succession laws.

The damages available to family members in a wrongful death lawsuit include those damages suffered by the family members as a result of their loss. This includes both economic and non-economic damages. A wrongful death lawsuit can include damages for:

  • Funeral costs and burial expenses;
  • Financial losses to the family from lost income and lost future earnings; and
  • Non-economic damages for the loss of companionship, loss of support, or loss of affection.
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Call us for help...

For questions about SUV rollover accident lawsuits or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California car accident attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Legal References:

  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) -- -- Rollover Causes.
  2. NHTSA -- -- Types of Rollovers.
  3. NHTSA -- Ratings (Based on a search of 2016 vehicle tests showing a rollover rating of less than 4 stars out of 5).
  4. California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
  5. Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560 (“A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way.”)
  6. See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) Series 1200 -- Products Liability.
  7. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1202 -- Strict Liability -- “Manufacturing Defect” Explained.
  8. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1201 -- Strict Liability -- Manufacturing Defect Essential Factual Elements.
  9. Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. (1978) 20 Cal.3d 413.
  10. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1203 Strict Liability -- Design Defect -- Consumer Expectation Test.
  11. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1205 -- Strict Liability -- Failure to Warn - Essential Factual Elements.
  12. NHTSA -- -- Rollover (“Rollovers are dangerous incidents that have a higher fatality rate than other types of crashes.”)
  13. NHTSA -- -- Rollover Fatalities
  14. California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)

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