car rollover

Vehicle rollover crashes only account for 2 percent of all crashes, but they constitute roughly one-third of fatalities. That means, every year, about 7,500 vehicle occupants die as a result of a rollover crash. They are second only to head-on collisions in the severity of injuries sustained. Survivors are often left with traumatic brain injuries, lost limbs, spinal cord damage, organ perforations, and life-long disabilities. Cars can roll over for a number of reasons, but when flawed vehicle design, a motorist’s recklessness, defective tires, or dangerous roadways are to blame, Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman are here to help you figure out what happened, why it happened, and who should be held accountable.

What is a rollover accident?

A rollover car accident can happen to any vehicle, at any time, given the right set of circumstances. During this type of crash, the vehicle undergoes a loss of control and flips over onto its side or roof at some point during a crash. Often, a vehicle is rounding a curve at a high speed, gravity shifts from one side to the other, and a hard overcorrection creates a pendulum effect, where the vehicle flips out of control. Other times, the vehicle may trip over a curb, pothole, or soft shoulder. During these crashes, the tires’ sidewall deforms, the wheel rim strikes the pavement with force, and the vehicle tips. Rollovers can result in passenger ejections, side panel crushing, and roof collapses, which make them particularly dangerous for passengers.

Rollover accident statistics

According to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), drivers in rollover crashes are most commonly males, under 40 years old, driving on two-way roads without dividing barriers, at speeds of 55 mph or greater. Additionally, they have found:

  • Trucks and SUVs are more likely to rollover. In 2000, 2 percent of cars involved in crashes experienced rollovers, compared to 4 percent of light trucks and 6 percent of SUVs.
  • The popularity of SUVs led to increase in fatalities. The number of fatal SUV rollovers more than doubled since 1991.
  • Fatalities are high in rollovers. Annually, rollovers account for 30 percent of collision fatalities.
  • Seatbelts save lives. In 2014, 66 percent of rollover fatalities were not wearing seatbelts at the time.
  • Tripping is the top cause of rollovers. An estimated 95 percent of rollover accidents involving one vehicle are caused by tripping – which occurs when a car’s tire hits something that disrupts the forward motion.
  • These accidents happen fast. In 40 percent of fatal single vehicle rollovers and 57 percent of multiple vehicle rollovers, there were no crash avoidance maneuvers taken prior to the crash.
  • Most rollovers involve a single vehicle. About 85 percent of rollovers are single vehicle crashes.
  • Speed and alcohol are factors. Three-quarters of rollovers occur at speeds of 55 or greater. Nearly half of fatal rollover crashes involve alcohol impairment.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that safety features have helped decrease fatalities over the years. From 2000 to 2014, the rollover fatality rate decreased from 27 to 6 deaths per million, among occupants of “new cars” that are less than three years old. Side air bags, improved static stability factor in the chassis design, and electronic stability control in the braking systems are credited with these advances. Yet, as vehicle rollover attorneys know, these modest improvements have not been enough to prevent the heartache to their clients.

Rollover car accident injuries

Jason Kerrigan, a mechanical engineer at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, explains why rollovers are so dangerous. “When you’re in a car that is airborne and rotating,” he says, “your body is being drawn up toward the roof with up to four times’ the force caused by gravity. You’re upside down or you’re on your side, or you’re at an angle and when you hit, it’s going to be a severe impact.”

His colleague, Qi Zhang, adds: “One of the most important results we’ve seen is that the human spine extends, straightens, and aligns itself with the acceleration vector in a way we have never seen in other types of crashes. This puts the human head close to the roof, and closer to injury, at the time the roof gets impacted by the ground when the vehicle rolls over.”

According to the National Automotive Sampling System Database, most rollover crash victim sustain multiple injuries throughout the head, neck, thorax, abdomen, upper limbs, and lower limbs. The most common injuries include:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Fractured Bones
  • Internal Organ Perforations
  • Deep Lacerations and Contusions

In the worst cases KGG Law sees, victims are ejected from the vehicle, torn up by metal, or impacted by heavy cargo. Long-term effects of rollover accidents may include vision loss, hearing loss, dental injuries, chronic neck and back pain, amputation of arms and legs, and internal organ damage requiring multiple surgeries. A medical expert hired by KGG Law will investigate all injuries to determine the lifetime costs associated with the accident.

What is the most common cause of a rollover accident?

Rollovers are violent and complex incidents that involve a combination of driver, road conditions, vehicle type, and environmental factors. It takes a skilled, experienced investigator to gather the facts and substantiate what happened. We know that most rollovers – particularly single vehicle rollovers — occur when a vehicle essentially “trips over itself” on a curb, guardrail, tree stump, or soft uneven shoulder, but many questions remain.

  • Was another driver’s alcohol use or inattentiveness to blame?
  • Is there a known deficiency in the road surface, design, area speed limit, or warning signage?
  • Would a different type of vehicle have rolled over, given the same set of conditions?

Plaintiffs interested in recovering compensation can take a variety of approaches. They can sue other drivers directly for their negligence in causing the crash – even if they, themselves, were partly to blame, too. They may sue their vehicle manufacturer or tire manufacturer in a product liability lawsuit. In rare instances, a vehicle repair garage can be held liable if recent repair work was done inadequately. A tractor trailer company could be sued for improper loading or training. Municipalities may be liable for poor road design and maintenance. In any case, it’s particularly important to have access to experts who can clearly demonstrate cause-and-effect.

The Large Truck Crash Causation Study undertaken by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration describes 239 crashes in which a truck rolled over. In-depth analysis revealed almost half resulted from failing to adjust speed to curves in the road, (mostly on-and off-ramps), the load being carried, condition of the brakes, road surface, and intersection conditions. A second major crash contributor involved attention: simply being inattentive, dozing or falling asleep, and distraction, all leading to situations where a sudden direction change resulted in a rollover.

The third large crash contributor involved steering: over-steering to the point of rolling over, not steering enough to stay in lane, and overcorrecting to the point of having to counter-steer to remain on the road. Finally, loads are a frequent problem when drivers fail to take account of their weight, height or security, or when loading takes place before they are assigned. Instruction in rollover prevention, like most truck driver training, comes through printed publications. The use of video would help drivers recognize incipient rollovers while currently available simulation would allow drivers to experience the consequences of mistakes without risk.

Vehicles most likely to rollover

All factors being equal, vehicles with higher centers of gravity are more prone to rollovers by nature.

  • SUV Rollover: The IIHS reports that 50 percent of SUV occupants killed in 2014 crashes were in rolled vehicles.
  • Truck Rollover and Jeep Rollover: 44 percent of pickup truck fatalities are attributed to rollover crashes.
  • Car Rollover: 22 percent of car fatalities occurred during rollovers.

According to Cheat Sheet, these 10 vehicles are most likely to be involved in a rollover accident:

  • Nissan NV3500
  • Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4WD
  • Toyota 4Runner
  • Ram 2500
  • Ford F-250
  • Jeep Renegade
  • GMC Yukon
  • Chevrolet Tahoe RWD
  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Chevrolet Colorado

The Ford Explorer rollover cases received a high amount of media spotlight after an episode of “Frontline” pointed out that a Ford Explorer is 16 times as likely as a typical family passenger vehicle to kill occupants of another vehicle in a crash. Issues with Ford’s Firestone tires were attributed to some 300 deaths in a 10-year period, while vehicle design flaws were said to account for 12,000 more deaths. The Washington Post reported that “The Ford memos show that the company’s own engineers had discovered potential dangers in two key Explorer features, its suspension and roof strength, that could make the vehicle especially lethal during a blowout.”

Rollover prevention

Motorists can use safety restraints and choose to purchase vehicles with high safety ratings. They can avoid driving distracted, drowsy, or intoxicated, and take care not to speed. They can make sure they’re driving with safe, new tires and see that all cargo is safely stowed. The NHTSA also recommends avoiding “panicked steering,” meaning that, if the vehicle veers off the road, one should gradually reduce vehicle speed and slowly ease the vehicle back onto the roadway.

Beyond that, it’s up to engineers and safety experts to continue to make rollover-prone vehicles more stable by lowering the center of gravity, widening the wheel track, adding air bags, designing stronger roofs, and incorporating smart stability control. Russ Rader, communications director for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, explains: “Stability control alone can reduce the risk of fatal single-vehicle crashes by 56%. And it can reduce fatal single-vehicle rollovers by 80% for SUVs, 77% for passenger cars.”

Vehicle rollover lawyers in Rockland County, NY and Bergen County, NJ

The car accident attorneys at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman, P.C. have over 40 years of experience successfully litigating vehicle rollover lawsuits. We like to say we’re “big enough to do it all, but small enough to care.” You can expect a thorough investigation of your accident, access to expert testimonies, and clear guidance throughout the process. Call our NJ and NY lawyers for a free assessment of your case as soon as possible, before the statute of limitations run out. Remember, no legal fees are collected unless you win!

Additional Vehicle Rollover Resources:

  1. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – Rollover Crashes.
  2. NHTSA – Characteristics of Fatal Rollover Crashes,
  3. – Rollover Causes
  4. Association for Advancement of Automotive Medicine – Analysis of Large Truck Rollover Crashes,
  5. PBS Frontline – Rollover
  6. Forbes – 20 Most Dangerous Vehicles,
  7. Cheat Sheet – Trucks, SUVs Highest Risk of Tipping Over,
  8. UVA – UVA Takes A Hard Look at Rollovers,
  9. Consumer Reports – Car rollover 101,
  10. National Automotive Sampling System Database – Rollover Injuries,
  11. Washington Post – Internal Ford Documents About Explorer Rollovers Take A Look At Engineering,