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California Limo Fire Spotlight on the Causes of Car Fires


Authorities have said it could take weeks before they will know what caused a deadly limo fire that killed five women and injured five others on the San Mateo Bridge in California.

According to the limo driver, he was driving a bachelorette party of nine women on May 4 when the women knocked on the partition separating him from the group and asked him to pull over because they smelled smoke. The car, he said, was fully engulfed in less than a minute and a half. Investigators believe the fire started near the trunk of the limousine, but they are unsure whether it began on the interior or exterior of the vehicle.

Determining the cause of the vehicle fire is important for many reasons beyond public curiosity. First, it will give the victims and families answers. How could this have happened? Who is responsible? Second, it may provide the government with reasons to improve limo safety regulations. Finally, it will allow victims to bring personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against the responsible parties and recover compensation for their financial injuries and emotional pain.

Vehicle Fires Caused by Auto Defects

Nearly two-thirds of all auto fires are caused by mechanical or electrical problems. While most of these malfunctions are the result of improper maintenance, some are caused by auto defects such as improper design.

For example, in 1999, a faulty fuel system in a Chevy Malibu caused a fire that seriously burned six people. The attorneys at Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP, in Los Angeles, California, were able to show that General Motors, which manufactures the Malibu, knew that the car’s design was unsafe and that the fuel tank could explode and cause a fire, but failed to make changes. The verdict? General Motors was required to pay $4.9 billion, one of the largest personal injury awards in U.S. history.

That verdict was the largest of many similar verdicts and settlements against car manufacturers for faulty designs that have caused auto fires. Such designs have included faulty filler necks, faulty fuel tanks, faulty electronics systems, and even faulty brakes.

Car Fires Are Not Uncommon

Most cars are designed in a way that prevents fires. This is particularly important because the 12 to 20 gallons of fuel carried in our cars has the same explosive power as 72 to 120 sticks of dynamite! Other fuels in vehicles are also highly flammable. One spark in a poorly designed automobile can cause a very quick explosion and fire.

Unfortunately, even though manufacturers know that there is a significant risk of fire in poorly designed vehicles, car fires are not uncommon. Up to 500 people are killed every year in car fires and more than 30 vehicle fires are reported every hour. Most of these fires are sparked by car accidents, but a collision is not necessary to start a car fire, especially when there are electrical defects.

Could a Defect Have Caused the California Limo Fire?

Could the California limousine fire have been caused by an auto defect? Perhaps. The answer to that question could surprise many people because the fire appears to have started in the back of the car. Electrical fires, however, commonly start in trunks. Take, for example, the 1.3 million BMW cars that were recalled in March 2012 for improperly installed battery cables that could cause fires in the cars’ trunks.

Whatever the direct cause of the California limo fire, it is likely that the injured women and the families of those killed will list multiple defendants in their personal injury cases, including the driver and the limousine company.

Some of the surviving women believe the driver did not act quickly enough to pull the limo over and help them out of the car. Others wonder if the rigidness of the partition between the driver and the back of the limo played a role – crawling through the partition was the only way out for the women. Finally, there were nine passengers in the limo when regulations only allowed for eight. This could have made it more difficult for women to escape the vehicle.

Did You Lose a Loved One to a Car Fire?

If you were injured or lost a loved one in a car fire, you are probably looking for many of the same answers as those affected by the California limo fire. Because of advanced technology in investigations and evidence-gathering, it is possible to find those answers and hold negligent individuals or companies accountable.