A car crash in China over Memorial Day weekend reveals a possible danger of the move towards electric car technology. The vehicle in question, an electric car used as a taxi, caught fire after being rear ended. Concern about the safety of electric cars has made this particular crash into a high profile incident globally. Our Chicago car crash lawyers have extensive experience working with victims of car crashes and defective car products.
The New York Times reports that automakers claim a gasoline vehicle would have faced the same fire risks in similar accidents. But the truth of this statement is unclear. U.S. government testing on electric car batteries shows a somewhat different story.
Tests involving the Chevy Volt battery and other similar lithium ion batteries revealed that sometimes the danger extends beyond the time of the accident. Batteries have been known to catch fire hours or even weeks after an accident serious enough to disturb the battery. In response to concerns about battery integrity, automakers have improved structural designs to protect the battery with cases and steel cages.
The battery in the Chinese accident was located under the rear seats of the vehicle. Upon impact, the car spun across three lanes of traffic and then struck a tree. The tree trunk sliced through the rear bumper and into the rear seat area.
Government authorities have not yet released the vehicle for inspection by the car company. Neither police nor company investigators have been able to discover the precise cause of the fire at this time. Although the car company executives claim that the cause of the fire could have been something other than the battery, global media coverage and battery research seem to suggest otherwise.
In 2011, General Motors indicated that emergency responders need to be trained to drain batteries of electric cars at the scene of an accident. According to GM, leaving charge in a battery after an accident is akin to leaving a leaky gas tank full of gasoline after a crash. Leaving the charge or the gas is just plain dangerous.
The crash in question might not have allowed time for emergency personnel to remove the charge, but the measure could definitely help to avoid the types of fires coming hours or weeks after accidents. In an attempt to dissolve concern about battery risks, GM offered to train emergency responders on how to safely drain the charge.
Crash evidence will become critical when company investigators get a chance
to see the vehicle and determine the cause of the fire. If the fire was
caused entirely by circumstances of the accident the crash will not have
much ultimate effect on the electric car market, but if the fire occurred
specifically due to the battery pack the electric vehicle industry might
be in hot water.
Police reports already indicate that the car that initially struck the electric car was traveling at an excess of 110 miles per hour leading up to the accident. A collision involving such great speed is often fatal regardless of the type of vehicles involved. In this accident the electric vehicle was engulfed in flames after coming to rest against the tree trunk. Three individuals died but it is uncertain whether they died upon impact or because of the subsequent fire.
A CNBC report aptly points out the danger the auto industry faces with this accident. If the battery is the sole cause of fire, electric car manufacturers are open to a possible slew of future product liability lawsuits. Consumer fear may also get the best of electric sales in the near future.
Product liability lawsuits may occur where some type of product causes a person to sustain injury. The lawsuits can range from an injury caused by a glass soda bottle that bursts in your hand, to death caused by a defective vehicle. Financial damage awards from a product liability lawsuit are meant to compensate a victim for the injury unfairly sustained while the product was being used in the way it was meant to be used.
Our knowledgeable auto accident attorneys are closely following this electric car crash as details continue to be revealed. Roadways are already dangerous enough without the additional risk of vehicles going up in flames after an accident.
All fires aside, in April 2012, concern about batteries also rose when a battery exploded in the course of testing at a Michigan General Motors facility. One worker suffered chemical burns and a concussion. Four other workers were checked for injury, but did not have to visit the hospital.