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Rollover Accidents

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Rollovers, or auto accidents in which a vehicle tips over or flips onto its roof, are extremely dangerous. Although they make up less than 3 percent of passenger vehicle accidents, rollovers comprise 23 percent of all fatal passenger vehicle accidents, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Many of the accidents included in these statistics occur due to negligence on the part of the driver or someone else. When a rollover is caused by someone's negligence, those harmed are often eligible for compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering as well as other damages.

In this article you will find information on the legal issues associated with rollover accidents. To obtain further information, contact a personal injury attorney who can help evaluate your specific situation and determine your legal rights.

Why Rollovers Are So Dangerous

All passenger vehicles — passenger cars, pickup trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) — are susceptible to rolling over given the right conditions. However, according to IIHS, pickup truck and SUV accidents are more common than passenger car rollovers because they:

  • Have a higher center of gravity than passenger cars
  • Have relatively narrower track widths (distance between right and left tires) than passenger cars
  • Are more likely than passenger cars to be driven on rural roads where most rollovers occur


The likelihood of dying in a rollover crash is increased because of the tendency for vehicle occupants to be ejected from their vehicle when it tips over. In 2006, rollovers claimed the lives of 10,682 people. This is about 35 percent of the passenger vehicle occupant deaths that occurred that year.

Rollover Accidents and the Law

As a legal matter, a rollover accident occurs when a motor vehicle tips over on its side or onto its roof during a crash, causing harm, such as property damage, traumatic brain injury and/or death. Approximately 75 percent of fatal rollovers involve a single vehicle, according to IIHS. The remaining 25 percent occur as a result of a multiple vehicle accident. Although some of these accidents are caused by driver negligence, others are the result of another person's negligence or defect car parts.

Negligence in Rollover Accidents

Victims of rollovers cannot obtain compensation for their losses without first proving negligence, or the failure on someone's part to act carefully and responsibly. Negligence can be proved through police reports, photographs of the crash scene, eyewitness testimony and other types of direct evidence. With this evidence, victims must demonstrate:

  • The victim experienced harm because of the rollover accident.
  • The rollover accident was caused by recklessness.
  • The victim deserves to be compensated for the harm done by the party at fault.

For example, the statement of a bystander who witnessed a driver talking on a cell phone and speeding around a curve just before crashing into a guardrail and rolling over and down an embankment may be convincing evidence of driver negligence.

Indirect or circumstantial evidence may be just as compelling. For example, a police report stating that a driver involved in a rollover was discovered with an odor of alcohol on his breath and an open container of whiskey is likely to persuade a jury of driver negligence.

To prove harm done, injuries must be directly linked to the rollover accident. Because vehicle occupants are likely to be ejected from their vehicles, rollovers cause an appalling number of deaths and catastrophic injuries, including:

  • Broken bones
  • Amputation
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Road abrasions
  • Head, neck and chest injuries

When multiple parties are at fault for a rollover accident, insurance companies and juries use comparative negligence to divide liability by percentage of fault.

Compensation for Rollover Injuries

Victims of rollover accidents frequently receive settlements or court awards to compensate for accident-related expenses, including lost income, medical bills, lost prospects and physical and psychological pain. The amount of settlement or compensation is determined by insurance companies and juries who use pre-established formulas and take into account recovery times and the severity of injuries.

Some states have no-fault insurance laws that can affect compensation. Under these laws, victims may not be fully reimbursed for all of their expenses. The laws were initially created to prevent frivolous lawsuits and claims, while helping victims to receive prompt payments for medical bills and lost income. If you live in a no-fault insurance state and have endured losses from a rollover accident, contact local lawyers for further information.

Causes of Rollover Accidents

Rollover accidents happen when a vehicle:

  • Trips over an object (curb, guardrail, uneven pavement, etc.) that causes it to tip over.
  • Turns too quickly or sharply for the speed it is traveling and rolls over. The higher the vehicle's center of gravity, the more likely a rollover will occur in this situation.
  • Falls down an embankment.
  • Receives a side-impact from another vehicle in a multi-vehicle crash.

Many factors contribute to rollover accidents. Nevertheless, most fall into four general categories:

  • Driver error
  • Equipment failure
  • Road conditions
  • Road design

Driver Error. Driver error, influenced by one or more of the following, is the cause of most rollover accidents.

  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Distractions (using a cell phone, conversing with a passenger, eating)
  • Inattention (looking away from the forward road, rubbernecking)
  • Intoxication (drugs, alcohol, medications)
  • Aggressive driving
  • Oversteering or understeering
  • Lack of driving experience
  • Improperly loaded or overloaded cargo
  • Lack of familiarity with the road

In most states, driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is a criminal violation, which is prosecuted in a criminal court (see DWI laws in your state). However, a civil suit against the alleged intoxicated driver can be filed and compensation obtained, regardless of the verdict in the criminal case.

Equipment Failure. Some rollover accidents are caused by equipment failure, which can be traced to negligence of the owner, a mechanic or the manufacturer. In some cases, the failed equipment is external to the vehicle itself, for example defective tires. Equipment operators and service repair shops are responsible for keeping their equipment working safely. If the equipment fails as a result of poor maintenance, then they can be held liable. In addition, manufacturers can be held liable for design flaws. Some examples of design flaws include:

  • Roof crush
  • Seatbelt failure
  • Head restraint failure
  • Door lock failure
  • Improper deployment of
    an airbag
  • Unsafe gas tank
  • Electronic stability control failure

Roof crush is a serious concern. According to a 2008 report by IIHS, roof weakness is a contributing factor in deaths and injuries associated with rollover accidents. The U.S. government requires that a roof sustain no more than 5 inches of crush while supporting 1.5 times the vehicle's weight. More than 5 inches of crush may indicate negligence on the part of the manufacturer.

Poor maintenance and design flaws can entitle victims to compensation. Manufacturer design flaws often are settled in high-profile class action personal injury lawsuits. Because of the large settlements manufacturers pay for design flaws, many have recently added electronic stability control devices to light trucks, such as pickup trucks, vans and SUVs. They help guard against rollovers by compensating for a driver's oversteering or understeering. Any defect in this system may be a factor in a rollover and result in claims for an injury.

If you believe equipment failure or a design flaw caused your rollover accident, be sure to save the car to use as evidence in a trial.

Road Conditions. Unsafe road conditions can be attributed to bad weather, construction, debris and a variety of other factors. If a risky road condition leads to an auto accident, a driver or the government may be liable for negligence. In some cases, the government may be liable for poor maintenance of the roads, which can lead to dangerous conditions. Victims filing accident claims against government entities should review the case with a rollover accident attorney who is familiar with the specific rules and time limits.

Road Design. The government may also be liable for negligence for risky road designs that contribute to rollover accidents. Factors such as intersections and merging lanes can increase the likelihood of a car accident and make the government vulnerable to a negligence claim.

When You Need a Personal Injury Attorney

Because rollover accidents are frequently catastrophic and involve serious injuries (such as a closed head injury) or death, they often require more expertise than an insurance company alone can provide. Victims of rollover accidents should review their claims with a qualified personal injury lawyer if they experience any of the following:

  • Financial losses because they have not been fully compensated for all of their accident-related expenses
  • Delays in settling the claim
  • Denial of the claim by either a government entity or insurance company
  • The party at fault lacks insurance

Did You Know?

A recent Department of Transportation report indicates that most fatal rollovers occur on two-lane, rural roads or "divided roads without barriers."