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Sunroof Safety Questioned Amid Stagnant Standards and Crash Injuries

The sunroof is a popular vehicle feature, especially in Florida, where it can be enjoyed virtually year-round. However, a recent court case and New York Times report have highlighted safety concerns about the sunroof, particularly in rollover crashes and even when the window is closed. 

For anyone who may not be familiar, a sunroof is a panel on the roof of a car that can be opened for additional ventilation and light. The panel is non-removable, though some can be opened completely to allow for an open window in the roof. A moonroof is a type of sunroof that will tilt open slightly to allow in fresh air, but won’t open completely like a sunroof. It’s estimated 7 million (or 40 percent of all 2017 model cars and light trucks) are sold with a sunroof, compared to 33 percent for the 2011 model year.

The issue, as the Times reported, is that while these features have gained immense popularity, the government regulations regarding them have remained unchanged – which is to say, there are no regulations. It’s estimated there are hundreds of sunroof ejections that happen each year, many of those resulting in serious injury or death. Some automakers are even introducing “panoramic” sunroofs, which stretch the entire span of the vehicle’s top. This is touted as a luxury feature, but the reality is it can be extremely dangerous, particularly when made with glass that isn’t laminated. Some car makers have on their own made laminated safety glass standard for newer models. Others are working on devices that will help reduce the odds of ejection in the event of a rollover. However, those features aren’t required and motorists and passengers continue to be at heightened risk in the event of a rollover because numerous studies have shown vehicle occupants are safest in a rollover if they can stay in their vehicle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had said in the past that it was not reasonable to establish a sunroof safety standard because it didn’t have any means to test that degree of safety. They are now reconsidering that, but nothing formal has been introduced. Meanwhile, some companies are using laminated glass while others are exploring sunroof airbags and other safety features.

As the best West Palm Beach car accident attorneys know, sunroofs are unlikely to be the catalyst for a crash, but they can absolutely exacerbate the injuries sustained. In order to successfully pursue compensation from a vehicle manufacturer, one would most likely need to assert defective design, a type of product liability claim. Claimants in these cases need not prove negligence; rather, these claims are subject to the doctrine of strict liability, meaning the designer is liable under certain conditions – namely that the vehicle had an unreasonably dangerous defect by design, manufacture or failure to warn and plaintiff was injured as a result. Typically we need to also show the feature in question was being used as intended and that it wasn’t substantially altered from its original sale condition.

A recent product liability vehicle defect cause out of Mississippi underscores how challenging such cases can be. Plaintiff was involved in a single-vehicle crash in which she was ejected through the sunroof. She suffered brain and spinal injuries and is not expected to ever be able to walk again. Her attorneys argued the vehicle manufacturer should have used laminated safety glass (the same kind we use in windshields and other windows), which is more expensive, as opposed to the non-treated glass.

The court ultimately decided the case in defendant’s favor.

Those who believe their injuries in a car accident in West Palm Beach were exacerbated by a vehicle defect should contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Sunroofs Are Growing in Size and Popularity. Rules Haven’t Kept Up., Feb. 22, 2018, By Christopher Jensen, The New York Times

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City Pays $20 Million for Fatal DUI Crash Caused by Off-Duty Cop, March 12, 2018, West Palm Beach Car Accident Attorney Blog

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