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$45 Million Settlement for Paraplegic Nine-Year-Old Child

Impact from Modified Jeep with Illegal Lift Kit Paralyzes Young Boy

A personal injury claim stemming from a 2019 motor vehicle impact in Georgia was recently settled for approximately $45 million. A Jeep Wrangler with an illegal lift kit struck the rear of a stopped passenger vehicle in which a nine-year-old boy was a rear seat passenger. The illegally high “lift” raised the Jeep’s bumper high enough that it failed to contact the rear bumper of the passenger car, instead causing much greater crush damage to the passenger car’s rear where the unfortunate child was located. The case highlights the significant dangers that can be presented by improper after-manufacture modifications of vehicles on our roadways, as well as the legal complexities of personal injury claims and lawsuits stemming from accidents and injuries caused by these unsafe modifications.

Bumper Height Mismatches a Recognized Problem

Beginning in the 1980s and accelerating in more recent years, the popularity of “light truck vehicles” or LTVs — vehicles such as sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and small passenger vans that are built on light truck chassis — has expanded rapidly, with more and more of these vehicles on the roads. Accident statistics began to show in the 1990s that accidents in which these vehicles struck standard passenger cars were tending to produce more significant injuries to the passenger car occupants than were similar crashes between only passenger cars. It rapidly became evident that this was due to a mismatch in height between the LTV/SUV bumpers and the bumpers and side door internal frames of the passenger cars. The LTV/SUV bumpers were often higher than the protective devices on the passenger cars, resulting in greater passenger compartment crush damage to the passenger vehicles.

Voluntary Manufacturer Agreements and State Laws Seek to Reduce Injuries

As studies identified the bumper height mismatches as being a significant cause of increased injury rates in the 1990s and early 2000s, different efforts were made to reduce the problem. One significant element was the Enhanced Vehicle to Vehicle Crash Compatibility Agreement (EVC), a voluntary agreement among vehicle manufacturers to set bumper heights to specific levels. Subsequent studies have found that this agreement has significantly reduced the danger of injuries due to bumper height problems involving SUVs, although other vehicles such as pickup trucks remain problematic in this regard.

Additionally, many states have adopted laws that regulate the after-manufacture modifications of vehicles in ways that would change their relative bumper heights, such as with an illegal lift kit. In the 2019 traffic accident in Georgia that resulted in this recent settlement, the Jeep Wrangler had apparently been manufactured in accordance with the EVC agreement, but had then been modified using a “lift kit” that had raised the vehicle’s height twice as much as was allowed under state law.

Many Parties Liable for Child’s Injuries from Illegal Lift Kit

The recent $45 million settlement involved several parties and their insurance companies. The Jeep’s owner obviously bore some responsibility for operating a vehicle with unsafe modifications, however the lift kit had apparently been installed prior to his purchase of the vehicle. As a result the dealership also bore a degree of responsibility for having sold an improperly modified vehicle. The primary liability, however — and more than two-thirds of the final settlement funds — came from the company that manufactured and sold the lift kit. For cases such as these, defendants may potentially include:

  • The vehicle’s driver.
  • The vehicle’s owner.
  • The original manufacturer.
  • The dealership that sold the vehicle.
  • The business that installed the improper modification.
  • The company or companies that designed, manufactured, wholesaled, and retailed the illegal or improper modification kits.

Sorting through the possible defendants and proving the liability of each is a major portion of the tasks facing an accident attorney assisting an injured client in a case such as this.

View this news report from North Carolina discussing yet another dangerous vehicle modification requiring intervention by lawmakers:

Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer

Hello, my name’s Ed Smith, and I’m a Sacramento personal injury lawyer.  Determining who may be liable — legally responsible — for injuries or even fatalities that may result from an accident caused by illegal vehicle modifications is very complicated, both in legal terms and in engineering or mechanical terms.  Although voluntary manufacturer agreements such as the EVC have reduced the number of these incidents, dangerous and sometimes illegal modifications are available to sidestep these safety efforts.  If you or your loved one has suffered an injury due to an accident involving an improperly modified vehicle, please contact us today. We can be reached by calling us in Sacramento at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400. We always provide free, friendly advice.

Image by jesseleefrankenfield from Pixabay

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