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Lawyer Blog: Baltimore, MD

Post-Collision Fires: An Escalating Threat

Scene of Car Accident

Serious car crashes often leave terrible injuries in their wake. But sometimes such crashes result in post-collision fires. The fire’s victims can suffer injuries such as life-threatening burns, extensive scarring, and permanent nerve damage. Problems arising from such devastating wounds often mean a lifetime spent adjusting to pain and disability.

Data in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) FARS database indicates that, from 2002 through 2014, the percentage of those vehicles which caught fire went up, from 2.95 percent to 3.28 percent. Additionally, the percentage of all vehicular deaths occurring in vehicles that burst into flames increased from 4.54 percent to 5.36 percent. This happened while the total number of vehicles involved in accidents actually went down. In this case, the trend is not our friend.

It is estimated that approximately one-third of the deaths were directly caused by fires. It is also estimated that as many as 88 percent of crash victims would have escaped serious injury if it were not for the post-collision fire.

Local and Regional Fiery Crashes

While the percentages mentioned may seem small, post-collision fires are not rare. Here is a sampling of crash-caused fires during September and October of 2017:

  • October, 2017: In southeast Washington, D.C., near Alger Park, two persons were hospitalized with critical injuries after they crashed their car into a wooded area and the vehicle caught fire. A third person received minor injuries.
  • September, 2017: After they ran off the road, striking an embankment first and then a tree, three persons were trapped inside their vehicle and died after it burst into flames. The crash occurred in Amelia County, VA, southwest of Richmond. State Police have determined that hitting the tree caused the fire.
  • October, 2017: On the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn, NY, a cab driver lost control of his car and struck a concrete barrier, resulting in the vehicle becoming engulfed in flames. While the cabbie escaped—he actually hailed another cab to ride to the hospital for his injuries—he left his passenger to die in the fire. The cab driver is facing a number of charges, including criminally-negligent homicide.

Reasons for the Fires and Deaths

The National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) database makes the deadliness of post-collision fires clear. From 2005 through 2013, of all vehicular fires, 3.6 percent took place post-collision. However, this 3.6 percent of vehicle fires were responsible for 55.2 percent of fatalities involving car fires. If you are involved in a post-collision fire, you are at enormous risk of dying.

Experts are not sure why the incidence of post-collision fires is increasing while the overall crash rate is dropping. However, certain conclusions can be drawn from known facts and statistics:

  • Most car fires are associated with frontal crashes and start with the engine. The strength of the impact directly correlates with the chances of a fire.
  • The more severe the crash is, the higher the chances that occupants will be trapped inside.
  • Fuel system fires are generally more severe and therefore more deadly. Sometimes fuel systems can have defects that are responsible for the fire.
  • Large trucks have a higher rate of post-collision fires, perhaps because of the larger loads of fuel carried in extra fuel tanks, or perhaps because of certain hazardous materials being hauled. If you are in an accident with a large truck and a fire occurs, you have a greater chance of injury and death.
  • The materials used to create the interiors of cars can, in some cases, create toxic fumes that kill those who are trapped or unconscious inside.

The Importance of Evidence

Preserving evidence in a post-collision fire is critical to bringing a case, but can be challenging to obtain. Car fires make post-collision investigations difficult-to-impossible because of severe damage due to charring. Even if the vehicle was not completely consumed by flames, a burned vehicle degrades quickly because of corrosion. In such cases, witness testimony can provide clues by relating the fire’s color, the thickness of the smoke, and whether or not flashback (a violent, sudden fire caused by ignition of flammable fumes) occurred. It is imperative that all the reasons for the fire be discovered if a case is to go forward successfully.

We’re listening. How can we help?

At the Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler, we have devoted our practice to defending the rights of personal injury victims. As a dedicated Maryland car accident lawyer, Steve understands how traumatic a serious car accident can be for both the injured person and for his or her family. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in any kind of vehicular accident, you may be entitled to various kinds of financial compensation, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Keep in mind, however, that there is a statute of limitations – or a time limit – for filing personal injury claims. If you have been injured in an accident, you should not delay. Contact Steve today for a free initial consultation by calling 1-410-625-4878, or use our convenient and confidential online form.