Rollover Accidents

Vehicle rollovers are relatively uncommon but extremely dangerous. They occur in only two percent of all crashes, and yet they account for approximately one-third of crashes in which people are killed. In fact, aside from head-on collisions, rollovers are probably the worst-case scenario when it comes to being involved in an automobile accident.

The lives being lost in rollover accidents are not going unnoticed. Government agencies are implementing more realistic crash tests. Technologies like electronic stability control are being made available on new automobiles. Public safety campaigns – especially those that encourage seatbelt use – are proving to be effective. However, for those who have been injured or killed in a rollover caused by someone else’s negligence, accident prevention efforts are not going to bring justice. Only the legal system can do that.

Neale & Fhima represents rollover accident victims in Orange County and throughout Southern California. We sue other drivers, the government, car companies, auto part manufacturers, and anyone else we determine was responsible. Contact our vehicle accident lawyers to learn more.

Rollover Fatalities in Our Communities

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) maintains a traffic accident database that reflects the type, location, and severity of crashes. Based on a recent five-year period, here is a summary of how often fatal rollovers occur in some of the counties we serve:

County in
Southern California
Total rollover fatalities
(annual average)
Rollover fatalities
per 100,000 population (annual average)
San Bernardino 78 3.72
Riverside 60 2.61
San Diego 43 1.33
Los Angeles 83 0.82
Orange 20 0.63

Anyone familiar with these areas of Southern California will quickly draw at least one conclusion from this data – rollovers are more frequent in rural areas. Indeed, the higher speed limits and lack of shoulder barriers on rural highways make rollovers more likely. But there are additional factors that contribute to these accidents…

The ABC’s of Rollover Accident Factors

New clients are often surprised to discover how much of the work performed by our personal injury firm is conducted outside the courtroom. Accident investigations and reconstructions are a good example. Long before our attorneys begin negotiating a settlement or making arguments to a jury, we will have done all the work necessary to determine precisely why the accident happened.

Decades of studying the causes of traffic accidents has taught us a lot about rollovers. The contributing factors break down into three categories:

  1. Accident Scene
  2. Basic Physics
  3. Careless Driving

Accident Scene

The conditions at the location and time of the accident have a direct impact on whether a vehicle remains upright or flips over. We previously mentioned high speed limits and lack of shoulder barriers as risk factors on rural highways. Here are some other environmental factors that may exist anywhere in or around Orange County:

  • Heavy rain or water puddling
  • Fog
  • Uneven road surfaces
  • Loose gravel, sand, or other traction-reducing substances on the road
  • Soft shoulder material (dirt, grass, etc.)
  • Sharp curves
  • Unmarked curves
  • Insufficient banking on curves
  • Poorly designed merging or passing lanes
  • Unsafe construction zones or detour routes
  • Lack of street lighting
  • Pedestrians, animals, or objects in the roadway
  • Any unanticipated object or condition that would cause a driver to swerve violently.

Basic Physics

Almost every rollover accident involves the vehicle rotating on its longitudinal axis. That is to say, the vehicle “barrel rolls.” It would seem accurate, then, to think of these accidents in terms of the vehicle rolling to one side or the other. But that is not the case. The vehicle actually rolls straight ahead. The reason? Inertia.

Inertia refers to the tendency of an object to resist changes in its state of motion, including direction. Consider this hypothetical accident:

A driver traveling straight down the highway yanks the steering wheel to the right in an attempt to avoid an obstruction. This causes the wheels and the front end of the vehicle to turn and point to the right, but the vehicle continues its forward path. It begins to slide laterally, driver-side first. The outer walls of the driver-side tires fold, bite, and trip the vehicle into a roll.

Whether or not a particular vehicle will roll while fighting the force of inertia depends to a large degree on the physical characteristics of the vehicle itself. Here is the basic concept:

High Center of Gravity + Narrow Axle Track = Greater Risk of Rollover

Center of gravity is a theoretical point, located somewhere in the vehicle’s interior, at which its mass is at equilibrium. Axle track is the distance between the driver- and passenger-side wheels. Thus, tall and narrow vehicles (like passenger vans) are the most prone to overturning during a crash.

Careless Driving

Ironically, of all the factors that can increase the likelihood of a rollover, the most dangerous one is also the only one over which the driver has complete control. Carelessness behind the wheel may involve:

Drivers can also increase the risk of a rollover before they even get inside the vehicle, by:

  • Failing to maintain proper tire pressure
  • Overloading rooftop cargo racks
  • Installing “lift kits” or other suspension modifications
  • Operating unfamiliar vehicles like rented RVs and moving trucks.
  • Choosing to drive in poor weather.

What to Do If You Were Involved in a Rollover

Nothing is more important than seeking medical treatment following a crash. The next step is to call an attorney.

Rollover victims may hesitate to seek legal advice when no other drivers were involved in the accident. This is a mistake. While it is true that rollovers are often single-car accidents, liability on the part of others may still exist (you may recall litigation some years ago involving Ford SUV rollovers caused by defective Firestone tires – a Southern California jury awarded $23 million to one of those victims).

The only way to be certain about your legal rights is to contact a personal injury lawyer and ask. Neale & Fhima has offices in Dana Point, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, and we are available to discuss your case right now. Call (888) 680-8551. Or you can submit the contact form below and we will be in touch with you shortly.