A car or vehicle fire occurs when a vehicle simply bursts into flames on its own, without being intentionally set on fire. Although they do not frequently occur, when they do occur, vehicle fires are extremely dangerous. Car fires frequently result from fuel leaking from the gas tank of a car, in what is known as a fuel-fed car fire.

Fuel-fed car fires can become very intense, very quickly, and can lead to parts of the car exploding. When this type of fire happens, it usually causes serious injury and/or death to both drivers and passengers.

According to the Statista Research Department, in 2019, there were approximately 189,500 highway vehicle fires as reported in the United States. This increased slightly from the year before, in which there were 181,500 highway vehicle fires reported in the United States.

There are a number of reasons as to why a fuel-fed car fire may occur. It could be the result of wear and tear on the vehicle, or a defective design by the manufacturer, which will be further discussed later on. However, it is more common that fuel-fed car fires are the result of an automobile accident. Because fuel-fed car fires pose such a dangerous risk, vehicle manufacturers must adhere to considerably strict safety guidelines.

To further clarify, defective gas tanks generally cause fuel-fed fires and explosions upon collision. The flammable liquids in a vehicle ignite; examples of such liquids include:

  • Oil;
  • Gasoline; and
  • Power steering fluid.

Some examples of the most common defects associated with the design and manufacture of the gas tank include, but may not be limited to:

  • Gas Tank Placement: This is generally associated with rear-impact collisions, in which the gas tank was placed in a vulnerable location such as below the rear axle or near protruding bolts. This puts the gas tank at risk of rupturing and causing, or feeding into, a vehicle fire;
  • Gas Tank Cracks: A cracked gas tank can cause fuel to leak when the tank is being filled with gasoline. This is generally a manufacturing error, but may occur for other reasons; and
  • Fuel Line Separation or Leaks: When an engine is fuel-injected, it requires fuel to pass through fuel lines at high pressure. If there is separation in the fuel line, or a leak, the fuel can spark or feed a resulting fire. Again, this would most likely be considered a manufacturing error but may have other causes.

What Vehicles Are Statistically More Likely To Be Involved In A Fuel-Fed Car Fire?

There are certain models of vehicles that are more susceptible to fuel-fed car fires. Some examples include, but may not be limited to:

  • Ford Crown Victoria: These cars are considerably susceptible to fuel-fed car fires. The location of the gas tank is what makes it easy for it to be damaged in accidents. What this means is that there is an increased risk of the gas tank creating or feeding a fire in an accident. In the past, Ford has considered implementing additional safety features which would reduce the chance of a fire;
  • Vans: Although it is generally assumed that vans are safer than cars because they are bigger and can carry more passengers, that is not always true. Specifically, the Ford Econoline van is designed in such a way that the gas tank can overheat, which actually causes the gasoline to boil while in the tank. Obviously this can be extremely dangerous due to the fact that it can cause fuel expulsion. If this fuel is ignited, a van fire will occur; and/or
  • Trucks: Truck fires can occur even when the truck is not involved in any sort of accident. Specifically, the Ford F-150 has been involved in many incidents in which the truck spontaneously bursts into fire. The most likely cause for these unexpected fires would be a type of manufacturer defect, due to the fact that there is generally a lack of outside factors that would cause the fire.

What Is Product Liability? What Is A Defective Product?

As previously mentioned, many fuel-fed car fires are associated with a defective product. As such, many of the lawsuits brought by victims of fuel-fed car fires are suing on the basis of product liability.

Product liability refers to when a manufacturer, retailer, or seller of a product is held liable for allowing a defective product to reach the consumer. This is regardless of the consumer’s own negligence. Laws which govern product liability determine who is responsible for defective and/or dangerous products. All parties involved in the product’s distribution chain may be found guilty of product liability.

State laws regarding product liability claims tend to vary. However, there is a set of commercial statutes in each state that are modeled after the Uniform Commercial Code. These contain warranty rules which affect product liability.

A defective product can be defined as any product that is unreasonably dangerous when being used for its intended purpose, without any alterations or interference. In order to prove product liability, a plaintiff needs to prove that:

  • The product was defective upon being manufactured;
  • The product’s manufacturer, seller, or distributor intended for the product to reach the plaintiff without any changes being made through the process; and
  • The plaintiff and/or their property was injured in some way by the defective product.

A defective product causes injury when it has been designed, manufactured, or marketed defectively:

  • Design Defects: These are present from the beginning, even before the product is physically manufactured. A company can become liable for a design defect when a foreseeable risk was present during manufacturing, and the company chose to continue creating the unsafe product (as in the case of defective 3M earplugs);
  • Manufacturer Defects: This product defect occurs over the course of the manufacturing or assembly process. This could result from an unintentional mistake, causing the product to be more dangerous than what the company and the consumer expected. The biggest difference between design defects and manufacturer defects is that design defects are intentional, while manufacturer defects are unintentional flaws that occur when the product is made; and
  • Marketing Defects: Marketing defects result from a lack of sufficient instructions or warnings regarding its safe use. These are flaws in the way the product is marketed to the consumer, such as improper labeling and inadequate safety warnings.

In order to prove to the court that the product was defective, the plaintiff must prove one or more of the above legal theories, while also proving that the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous to use.

Are There Any Legal Remedies For Fuel-Fed Car Fires?

In order to successfully recover for injuries caused by a defective product, the injured party must meet three conditions:

  • The product had an unreasonably dangerous defect;
  • This defect caused an injury while the product was being used in its intended way; and
  • The product was not changed in any substantial way from how it was originally sold.

Some product defects can be created due to mishandling or tampering with an item; as such, you should be prepared to admit or deny any tampering that could have rendered the product dangerous and defective.

To reiterate, any party to the product’s distribution chain may be held liable for product defect. Any reasonably foreseeable person who could be injured by a defective product may recover for their injuries. Some examples of who could be held liable include:

  • The product’s manufacturer;
  • The party responsible for assembling and/or installing the product;
  • The manufacturer of the component parts;
  • The wholesaler; and/or
  • The retailer that sold the particular product to the consumer.

Do I Need An Attorney For Fuel-Fed Car Fire Accidents?

If you have been injured in a fuel-fed car fire, you will need to consult with an experienced and local automobile lawyer immediately. An attorney can inform you of your rights and legal options under your state’s specific product liability laws.

They will also be aware of any class action lawsuits that you may be able to join. Additionally, your consumer attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.