Who is liable for injuries and deaths caused by a car fire?

Car on Fire in the Middle of the RoadCars should not catch on fire. That is a simple fact. If you were injured in a car fire, it is likely that another person’s or manufacturer’s negligence caused the fire. If this is the case, you can hold the at-fault party liable for everything you lost in the fire, but you will need the help of an experienced Albuquerque car accident lawyer.

Our personal injury lawyer at Keller & Keller in New Mexico is available to investigate the fire, identify the responsible parties, and hold them accountable. Call us to schedule an absolutely free review of your case to find out if we can help you after a devastating car fire.

Where Car Fires Start

Fortunately, car fires are not a common occurrence, even in a collision. Modern cars are designed to contain fuel so that it does not catch on fire in a crash—at least, they should be designed and manufactured that way. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were nearly 175,000 highway vehicle fires reported in 2020 alone. The most common sources of vehicle fires are:

  • Fuel tanks and lines. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles with internal combustion engines always have flammable fuel on board, but gas tanks, oil pans, and fuel lines are supposed to contain combustible material to prevent a fire if there is a collision. If there is a fuel leak, it can be ignited by a single spark and result in a devastating fire.
  • Electrical systems. Defective wiring, batteries, cables, sensors, alternators, and spark plugs can cause an electrical fire that spreads to the fuel system. The batteries in electric and hybrid vehicles are particularly susceptible to malfunction and fire.

While these are the systems that typically catch on fire in a vehicle, there are multiple ways the systems could be compromised to cause a fire.

Who Might Be to Blame in an Albuquerque Car Fire?

If someone’s negligence contributed to the crash or malfunction that caused the fire, they could be made to pay for your losses. Depending on the cause of the fire, various parties could be to blame, including the following:

  • Another driver. If another driver’s negligence caused the collision that initiated the fire, that driver should be held responsible for the damage it caused. Potentially liable actions on the other driver’s part include speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving, drowsy driving, and careless or reckless driving.
  • Vehicle manufacturer. Because cars should not catch on fire, even in a collision, the vehicle manufacturer could also be liable for a fire if it was caused by a design or manufacturing flaw. If the vehicle caught on fire without being in a crash, it is even more likely to be the fault of the manufacturer.
  • Vehicle owner. An owner who does not properly maintain their vehicle or fails to respond to manufacturer recalls could be to blame for the fire. If you are hit by a poorly maintained vehicle that catches on fire and spreads to your car, the other driver should be held accountable. If you were hit and your vehicle ignited because of a problem you failed to fix, you could be partially responsible for your damages.

An accident investigator can be employed to determine whose actions led to the vehicle fire.

Potential Injuries in a Vehicle Fire

Victims of car fires can suffer catastrophic injuries that will impact them for the rest of their lives. Not only could they sustain injuries such as traumatic brain injury, spinal cord damage, broken bones, and whiplash in the collision, but a fire could cause:

  • Thermal burns. Flames or radiant heat from a fire can cause burns that are so severe, the victim could lose the use of a body part, require skin grafts, and be permanently scarred. Burns can also be fatal.
  • Smoke inhalation. If the victim is trapped in a car that is filled with smoke, they could suffer lung or respiratory tract damage from breathing it in. Over half of all fire fatalities are caused by smoke inhalation.
  • Toxic exposure. As a car burns, toxic chemicals could be released that burn skin, damage airways, and cause poisoning.

The cost of recovering from car fire injuries can be astronomical. In addition to immediate medical treatment, the victim might need ongoing therapy, multiple surgeries, and many weeks off work. A settlement with the liable party or parties could ensure that these costs are covered.

James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller