Watch a movie or a TV show involving a car crash and you’ll focus on how the cars crush each other. You’ll see pictures of the victims, expect the calls for ambulances, and wait for the police to arrive. All of these observations are heart-breaking but there’s one observation that raises the dramatic level to the extreme – when the car bursts into flames.
Cars igniting into flames couldn’t be scarier, and they happen more often than you might think: there were more than 181,000 reported car fires in the US in 2019 alone. The drivers in the vehicles often die. If they’re lucky to survive, the burn injuries can change their lives forever. It’s hard to know which is more traumatic – the physical scarring or the emotional scarring. When deaths occur, our respected Oklahoma City injury lawyers file wrongful death cases on behalf of the families of the survivors. We file personal injury claims on behalf of survivors.
Why do car fires happen?
Most car fires start as a result of a collision, either with another vehicle or a stationary object. Sometimes, the force of the collision is enough to spark a fire. Sometimes, it is a defect in the car that leads to a fire, even if there was no collision: Kia, Hyundai, BMW and Tesla have all been in the news over the past few years for spontaneous fires. Some of the more common causes of fiery car crashes include:
- Negligence. Every car can ignite if the car crash ruptures any part of the fuel line. The faster the vehicles involved in the crash are traveling, the more likely the fuel line is to ignite. Head-on crashes and rollovers are among the most forceful car crashes – and the among the most likely to cause a fire.
- Defective fuel lines and tanks. If the fuel line or fuel system is defective, gasoline from the car or truck can leak. Defective fuel lines, even when there isn’t a forceful crash, can rupture. Just one small leak and one spark near the exhaust or electrical system can cause a major fire.
- Defective electrical systems. This is the most common cause of car fries from defective auto parts. New vehicles have a lot of technology to help the car operate and even to handle emergencies. Electrical wires and cables that touch hot metal can create sparks that cause the fuel to ignite.
Other causes include engines that overheat, catalytic converters that overheat, battery problems, defective exhaust systems, oil spills, and poor maintenance.
What are the common types of vehicle fire injuries?
Burn injuries are the most common type of car fire injury. Second and third-degree burns are very likely. According to the Mayo Clinic:
- 2nd-degree burns affect both the epidermis (the first skin layer) and the epidermis (the second skin layer). The victims may have severe pain. Victims may develop blisters. Scarring from 2nd-degree burns is a distinct possibility.
- 3rd-degree burns affect the fat layer between the skin. The parts of the body that are burned may be black, brown, or white. 3rd-degree burns “can destroy nerves, causing numbness.”
Other injuries include broken bones and fractures, smoke and ash inhalation leading to respiratory failure, esophageal burns, and/or lung damage, and retina injuries, and infection from the open wounds. In the very worst cases, the people in or around the car will die.
What kinds of surgeries may be required after a burn injury from a car fire?
In addition to many self-care and hands-on treatments such as dressings, ointments, fluids, and drugs to reduce the risk of infections, car accident burns are likely to require surgery. Those surgeries may include:
- Trachea surgeries. The doctor or emergency medical technician may need to assert in your windpipe to make sure your lungs get the oxygen they need.
- Surgeries to ease blood blow. Some scabs from burns (called eschars) may need to be cut if they cut off blood circulation.
- Skin grafts. This procedure uses your own healthy skin to replace tissue that is scarred due to the burns. In some cases, donor skin may be used on a temporary basis.
- Plastic surgery. Many victims of fiery car crashes require reconstructive surgery to help improve their appearance and to “increase the flexibility of joints affected by scarring.”
Burn injury victims usually need to work with many different therapists including physical, rehabilitation, and vocational therapists. In order to scope with the scarring and disfigurement, most burn injury victims often need to treat with psychologists.
What do I do if I think my vehicle is on fire?
As the old saying goes, where there is smoke there is fire. As soon as you see smoke or flames, you should pull off to the side of the road (the right shoulder if there is one is preferable). You should turn off the vehicle. You should then get out of the car and make sure there’s some distance between you and the car; a hot enough fire can (and will) shatter windows, and even though vehicle windows are made with a special type of glass, you want to be on the safe side. Call 911 to report the fire and give emergency fire services crews your location so the crews can put out the fire.
At Cunningham & Mears, our Oklahoma City car accident lawyers fight to hold manufacturers, distributors, and car retailers liable when defective car parts cause deaths or injuries. We file claims against drivers and owners if their negligence causes any passengers in their car, the occupants of any other cars, or bystanders to suffer death or burn injuries. We demand compensation for all your medical expenses, any wage or income loss, and the damage to your vehicle in car accident cases. When fires occur, we also demand compensation for your incredible physical pain and emotional suffering, and for your scarring and disfigurement. In many car accident cases, we negotiate just settlements with the insurance carriers for the responsible parties. When necessary, we’re ready to try your case before a jury of your peers. To discuss a wrongful death case or a personal injury case, call our seasoned Oklahoma City lawyers at 405.232.1212 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More