Learn what causes rollover crashes and what legal options exist to recover car accident damages
A rollover accident occurs when a vehicle rolls onto its side or roof during a crash. Rollovers are particularly violent in nature and, oftentimes, the vehicle's occupants are partially or fully ejected from the vehicle.
Rollovers sound serious, and they are.
Rollover accident statistics
The popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and other light duty trucks has increased dramatically over the last 2 decades. The prevalence of these vehicles is troublesome given that they're particularly prone to rollover accidents.
What's more, rollover accidents are far more likely to result in fatalities than non-rollover accidents. For example, in 2000, only 3% of all vehicles involved in crashes were rollovers, but rollovers accounted for 20% of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes.
Here are some other unsettling facts about rollover accidents in the United States:
- Rollover accidents kill approximately 10,000 people every year
- Almost 75% of the people killed in rollover crashes weren't wearing their seatbelts
- In fatal rollovers, only 4% of people using restraints were completely ejected compared with 53% of those who weren't using their restraints
- Nearly 85% of all rollover-related fatalities are the result of single-vehicle crashes
- Almost 75% of rollover accidents occur in rural areas where the posted speed limit is at least 55 miles per hour
- An estimated 40% of fatal rollover crashes involved excessive speeding and approximately 50% involved alcohol impairment
Causes of rollover accidents
Under the right circumstances, any vehicle can rollover. However, taller, narrower vehicles (such as SUVs, pickups, and cargo vans) are more likely to roll over because they have a higher center of gravity.
In general, there are 3 types of rollover accidents:
- Tripped rollovers. A majority of single-vehicle rollover crashes are "tripped." This simply means that a high tripping force (such as a curb, pothole, or soft roadside shoulder) caused the vehicle to rollover.
- Untripped rollovers. Untripped rollover accidents account for a minority of rollover crashes, and usually only pertain to top-heavy vehicles such as SUVs or semi-trucks. Rather than a high tripping force initiating the rollover, untripped rollovers typically occur when a vehicle traveling at a high speed suddenly maneuvers to avoid a collision with another car or object. To put it simply, untripped rollovers are caused by steering maneuvers.
- Defective vehicle rollovers. In rare cases, a rollover can be caused by a defective vehicle or part. For example, in 2019, the estate of a deceased construction worker sued a Korean tire company on the basis that a defect in the tire caused the tire to come loose from the vehicle, which caused the vehicle to rollover.
A number of factors can increase the chances of a rollover, including:
- Vehicle type. Tall, narrow vehicles are more prone to rollover accidents because of their high center of gravity.
- Speed. Excessive speed is often the cause of fatal rollover crashes.
- Impairment. As with other types of car accidents, alcohol and drug impairment commonly play a role in rollover crashes. Even a trace amount of alcohol can disrupt a driver's coordination and judgment, making them more likely to speed and take sharp turns.
- Distraction. Distracted driving causes drivers to make sudden, sharp maneuvers, which often leads to rollover crashes.
- Road conditions. Rural roads tend to have more rollover fatalities since they rarely have barriers or dividers. In addition, people are more prone to speed on rural roads. Weather conditions, such as ice and rain, can make roads slick and also increase the likelihood of a rollover.
As you can see from the list of factors that contribute to rollover accidents, many crashes can be avoided by understanding how your vehicle operates and obeying the rules of the road.
Common rollover injuries
In the most severe cases, rollover crashes result in death. Even when passengers survive a rollover, they risk catastrophic injuries, including:
Can you receive compensation for a rollover accident?
If you caused the accident, you'll likely have to pay for your injuries out of pocket (unless you have optional insurance coverage, such as personal injury protection, or PIP, which covers your damages regardless of fault).
If, on the other hand, some other person is responsible for your injuries, you may be able to file a personal injury claim against them. Potential at-fault parties include:
- Other drivers
- Manufacturers (in cases where the vehicle is defective)
- The government or a private road maintenance company (in cases where road conditions caused the rollover)
In order to recover damages from another party, you generally have to show that the other party was negligent. That means you have to prove:
- The defendant owed you a duty,
- The defendant breached the duty, and
- The breach caused your injuries.
In some cases, proving that a person was negligent is straightforward.
For example, if another vehicle is driving the wrong way on a road and causes you to swerve out of your lane, hit a guardrail, and rollover, it won't be too difficult to prove that the other driver was negligent.
However, in other cases, negligence can be more complicated.
For example, if your tire blows out and causes you to roll over, it might be because the tire is defective—or it might be because the tire is worn or because you ran over a sharp object. Proving the exact cause of the tire failure and the accident will likely require a lengthy investigation.
Keep in mind that Texas is a modified comparative fault state. This means that you can't recover damages if you're more than 50% at fault for your accident. You can recover damages if you're less than 51% at fault, but your recovery will be reduced by your degree of fault.
If you're able to prove that another person was responsible for your accident, you can recover economic damages (medical expenses, lost wages, etc.) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering, etc.).
What should you do after a rollover accident?
If you're involved in a rollover accident, make sure you're out of harm's way and then take the following steps:
- Call the police. The police will conduct an investigation and write a police report that could help prove liability down the road.
- Exchange information. If another driver is involved in your rollover accident, make sure you get the driver's name, contact information, insurance information, license plate, car make and model, and driver's license number.
- Get witness information. This is crucial because witnesses are notoriously difficult to locate after an accident.
- Photograph the scene. Use your phone and take pictures of the cars, injuries, and anything else that might be relevant (such as a pothole or other evidence of a poorly maintained road).
- Receive medical attention. Make sure to see your doctor and document your injuries. If you don't see a doctor soon after the accident, the insurance company will likely question the legitimacy of any eventual injury claims.
- Contact your insurance company. Start this process as soon as possible and keep all your documents in one place. It helps to use a post-accident journal and expense worksheet.
- Talk to an attorney. Even if you're not sure about a lawsuit, a car accident lawyer can help you decide how to proceed.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Characteristics of Fatal Rollover Crashes
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Rollover
American Zurich Insurance Company v. Kumho Tire Company