Although motor vehicle fires are less frequent than other types of accidents, they are more likely to result in devastating injuries, debilitating pain, and even death. Those victims that survive this horrific accident not only have to endure catastrophic lifelong trauma and extensive medical bills, but for many burn victims and their families, life as they know it will forever change.
However, if you were in a motor vehicle fire accident because of another person’s careless actions or defective equipment, you should not have to handle these crippling repercussions on your own. You deserve justice for the injuries you suffered and compensation for the losses you endured.
That’s why we wrote this blog. In it, we will discuss everything you need to know about motor vehicle fires, including how they start, the injuries they cause, and how you can pursue financial recovery for the harm you suffered.
The Most Common Causes of Motor Vehicle Fires
Motor vehicle fires do not happen often, but they can result in catastrophic injuries when they do. According to studies done by the Statista Research Department, there are, on average, about 189,000 highway vehicle fires that occur every year across the country—often due to mechanical or electrical problems. However, these issues are not the only source of this deadly accident.
In general, the most common causes of a motor vehicle fire include:
- Leaking fuel systems: If you have a fuel leak, you must take action ASAP. Fuel leaks are a top cause of car fires because gasoline is incredibly flammable and can quickly start a fire in the vehicle.
- Electrical system failure: All cars have an electrical system that runs throughout the vehicle, including in the hood, doors, and through the powered seats. Consequently, any faulty wiring or a defective battery can quickly result in a motor vehicle fire. Take, for instance, a car’s volt battery. This critical part produces hydrogen gas when charging, making it an explosion hazard. In fact, even a broken light bulb can become a source of ignition.
- Motor vehicle crashes: Cars today are incredibly well-designed with “crumple zones” that protect internal spots like gas tanks and engines. However, this does not always stop leaking fluids from coming into the proximity of heat when a car crash occurs, ultimately leading to destructive car fires.
- Maintenance issues: If you neglect to take care of your vehicle with routine maintenance, your car can become a dangerous ticking time bomb, more likely to experience a fire. If you let leaky seals, faulty wiring, or broken parts go without repairs, it can create explosive conditions.
- Overheating engines: Generally, a vehicle’s engine will not overheat enough to combust into flames. Yet, it can overheat and cause the internal fluids to rise to hazardous temperatures and spill out of their designated circulation areas. As this liquid spurts onto the exhaust system and other hot landing areas, it can ignite and spread.
- Design problems: When a motor vehicle is poorly designed, it can create conditions that can lead to fires or make the area ideal for fires to spread.
- Faulty batteries: When a battery is not designed correctly, it can lead to corrosion. This corrosion makes it highly flammable when interacting with a leaking coolant, for example.
- Leaking fluids: Motor vehicles contain an assortment of dangerous and flammable fluids, including diesel fuel, gasoline, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and engine coolant. As a result, if an aggravating factor such as a car crash causes the fluid to leak, it can start a car fire.
- Hazardous cargo: Some motorists do not think twice about storing extra fuel in their car. Unfortunately, when this fluid is in an unauthorized container and left in a hot car, the fuel will expand and leak onto the carpeting or the trunk liner, creating a volatile situation.
- Arson: When an individual decides to set a motor vehicle on fire intentionally, it is referred to as arson. Typically, arson occurs when someone wants to cover up a crime or theft, vandalize property, or complete insurance fraud.
Common Motor Vehicle Fire Injuries
Motor vehicle fires can result in various devastating injuries. However, burns are typically the most common injury that results from this horrific accident.
Burns are usually classified by degree, and this classification depends on how severely and deeply the burn penetrates the skin’s surface. See below:
- First-degree burns: These burns are often referred to as superficial burns, as they only affect the skin’s outer layer, called the epidermis. Usually, the burn site will be painful, red, and dry, but have no blisters. For example, a mild sunburn is an example of a first-degree burn. Additionally, there should be no long-term tissue damage, but if any occurs, it will consist of a decrease or increase in the skin’s color.
- Second-degree burns: These burns often involve the epidermis and part of the dermis layer of the skin. Once an individual suffers a second-degree burn, the site will appear blistered, swollen, red, and be incredibly painful, often resulting in scarring.
- Third-degree burns: This type of burn destroys both the dermis and the epidermis and leaves damage. The burned site will often appear charred or white and leave the nerve endings destroyed, causing no sensation in the area.
- Fourth-degree burns: The fourth-degree burn will go through both layers of the skin, the underlying tissue and even reach the bones and muscles. With no feeling left in the area due to destroyed nerves, doctors may need to amputate.
Burn injuries take a long time to heal, and unfortunately, if you do not seek prompt medical assistance, these burns can lead to deadly infections, significant scarring, and numerous other health issues that can forever impact your life.
Filing a Claim—Watch Out for Deadlines
The statute of limitations is a law that dictates the maximum amount of time you have to file a claim following an alleged offense. If you do not file your lawsuit within this allotted time, you can be barred from collecting compensation for your injuries.
In Texas, if you have suffered an injury because of a motor vehicle fire, you will only have two years from the date of the accident to pursue legal action. However, this regulation contains numerous expectations that can shorten or lengthen the amount of time you have to file your case.
If you want to ensure you receive the compensation you are entitled to, you cannot wait. The sooner you contact an experienced car accident lawyer, the better chance you have of obtaining the money you need. These attorneys can determine exactly how much time you have to file your claim and help ensure that your legal motions and paperwork are filed correctly and before the statute of limitations expires.
When Discussing the Car Fire Accident With the Insurance Company—Be Careful
If you were in a motor vehicle fire accident, the insurance company will be calling. Yet, even though most individuals assume that the insurance company will want to help them after this traumatic ordeal (especially if the incident is not their fault), this is not how all insurance companies work.
Insurance companies are a business, and like other businesses, they want to make money. By paying you less, they end up making more. Consequently, insurance adjusters may try any tactic they can to get you to admit fault for the accident so they can deny your claim or pay you less than you deserve.
That is why if you need to talk to the insurance companies, make sure you only discuss the basics and let them know that all future communication will be through your attorney. Once a skilled car accident lawyer takes over these discussions, they can help ensure that you do not say anything that can hinder your claim while fighting for the financial recovery you deserve.
If Your Motor Vehicle Catches on Fire—Take Action Fast
Most people do not expect to find themselves in a burning motor vehicle. Yet, accidents happen, and it is imperative to know what you have to do if your car catches on fire spontaneously. Not only will these actions protect your health and safety but your legal rights as well. Act fast and take these steps:
Pull Your Car Over
If you suspect your car is on fire or you see flames or smell smoke, you need to get off the road immediately. Pull over to a safe location where you are not blocking traffic and turn the engine off. This will help reduce the chance of the fire spreading or flames igniting.
Get Out of the Car
Get everyone out of the car and move at least 100 feet away from the burning vehicle to avoid the toxic fumes and flames. Do not let anyone go back to get their personal items, and make sure to keep bystanders back. It is also not recommended that you try to put out the fire alone. Unless you have a proper fire extinguisher and know how to use it, you should leave the fire alone and let professionals handle it.
Once you are out of harm’s way, make sure you call 911. This is the fastest way to get your accident on record and alert emergency responders that a fire needs to be put out and that someone at the scene needs medical assistance.
When the police arrive, they will investigate the accident and write down their findings in their police report. If you decide to bring an injury claim following your car fire accident, this report will provide critical evidence regarding what happened and who was at fault.
Get Witness Information
If there were people at the scene who saw what happened, get their name and contact information. Their statements can provide you with critical details regarding the accident and help back up your claims. However, if witnesses are hesitant to provide you with their information, do not force them. When you hire an experienced car accident lawyer, they can secure this evidence for you.
If it is safe for you to do so, make sure you take as many photos and videos of the accident as you can. Include pictures of your visible injuries, the car or cars involved in the accident, the damage done to your vehicle, and any other vital details that can help show what happened.
Contact an Experienced Auto Accident Lawyer Immediately
Automobile fires are rare, but when they do happen, the consequences can be life-threatening. If you or a loved one has been involved in a car fire accident, you need legal help that you can trust. That is why you must reach out to an experienced car accident lawyer immediately.
These attorneys can not only provide you the legal help you need, but they can also:
- Discuss your accident in detail, go over your questions and concerns, and explain your legal options.
- Investigate your case and build the strongest possible claim by obtaining the vital evidence needed to prove fault and damages.
- Hold all those responsible for your injuries accountable and go after maximum compensation.
- Handle all the negotiations and discussions with the insurance company, and make sure to fight for a fair settlement amount.
- Bring in the experts such as engineers, accident reconstructionists, and doctors to substantiate your claims.
- Take your case to trial, if required, and work tirelessly to bring a successful resolution to your lawsuit.
Car fires can be devastating. Do not wait any longer to get the legal help you require. Do not settle for less than what you deserve. Contact a skilled and knowledgeable car accident attorney today, and let them fight for the justice and compensation you deserve.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.