Side-Impact Car Accidents in California: Crash Stats and Victims' Rights

Side-impact crashes account for 13 percent of all car accidents and 18 percent of all fatal car accidents, according to a 2009 study conducted by the University of Michigan. These types of crashes, also known as T-bone accidents, can result in serious injuries to drivers and passengers, who may be able to file personal-injury lawsuits following side-impact car accidents in California.

Automotive Experts Test Side-Impact Safety

While front-impact collisions have been the focus of automotive safety improvements for decades, researchers and auto engineers are turning their attention to side-impact collisions and their dangerous consequences to car drivers and passengers. Injuries from a T-bone crash can include brain injuries, pelvic and torso injuries, and spine and neck injuries.

Auto-industry regulators and experts frequently examine the safety of new vehicle models through tests that simulate collisions with the driver's side of the vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conduct separate evaluations of car models and then rank their results.

NHTSA Crash Tests

The NHTSA uses two dummies designed to represent men weighing 170 pounds and measuring about 5.5 feet tall in the driver's seat and back seat of the vehicles it tests. A 1.5-ton weight careens into the vehicle at a speed of nearly 40 mph, and several points of impact throughout the dummies' bodies are measured. Then, the NHTSA ranks the impact to the dummies' chests on a scale of one to five stars. If the NHTSA considers head injuries likely in a side-impact crash, it will also report on those risks.

IIHS Crash Tests

The IIHS test uses two dummies designed to represent girls measuring about 5 feet tall and weighing just over 100 pounds. The IIHS uses a barrier shaped like a small truck weighing 3,300 pounds, which is slammed into the test vehicle while travelling just over 30 mph. The IIHS rates all vehicles using one of four labels from "poor" to "good" based on a combination of measures including the potential risk of injury to various points on the body from the head to the femur.

The NHTSA and IIHS side-impact crash ratings contain valuable information on car safety, but car owners and buyers should recognize the limitations of the rankings. First and foremost, the rankings do not consider the unique injuries that may be sustained by small children, infants and heavier adults in motor-vehicle accidents. They also only reflect test results from extremely specific and controlled situations, whereas real-life side-impact crashes occur in different circumstances, at varying speeds and at many angles.

In addition, the NHTSA's rankings are only based on the likelihood of chest injuries — not all personal injuries sustained. If a vehicle does not protect occupants from significant head or brain trauma, that fact may be obscured by a better test result for chest injuries. Also, the IIHS ratings are compilation scores that could de-emphasize the likelihood of certain more-dangerous types of personal injury.

California Personal Injury Lawsuits After T-Bone Collisions

Drivers and passengers injured in side-impact collisions, like other auto accidents, have the right to seek compensation from the motorist who caused the accident. Through a personal-injury lawsuit, car accident victims may be able to recover damages for their injuries, pain and suffering, property damage as well as wages lost during their recovery.

If someone is killed in a side-impact crash because of someone else's negligence, his or her family is entitled to seek compensation under California's wrongful death statute.

Comparative Negligence and Damages in California

California follows a legal doctrine called "pure" comparative negligence. This means that someone injured in a car accident may recover damages for his or her personal injuries. But, a percentage of fault for the accident is allocated among all people involved in it, and the damages a victim recovers can be limited if he or she is found partially or completely at fault for the crash.

For example, if a judge or jury determines that you are 40 percent at fault for a car accident because you entered an intersection as the traffic signal was turning red, and the other driver in the crash is 60 percent at fault for failing to look before entering the intersection at excessive speed, you could only recover 60 percent of the damages for your personal injuries because you were 40 percent at fault for the crash. Therefore, if you had medical bills and other expenses related to the accident that equaled $10,000, you could only recover $6,000, or 60 percent, from the other driver.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident in California, promptly contact a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to discuss any legal claims you may have.