Every year, more than 8,000 people are ejected through open vehicle doors, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Too many of these door openings are the result of broken door latches, strikers, or defective door latches.

Inadequate Crashworthiness Testing

The Federal Vehicle Safety Standard 206, crashworthiness testing required for door latches, was established in the early 1970s. This was intended to eliminate the likelihood of ejecting occupants through an open front door during a collision or rollover. This standard was revised in 1995 to include back doors. The standard is in the midst of updating to address sliding doors.
While crashworthiness testing has vastly improved door latches over the years, it has not yet produced a failsafe design. Reproducing every possible crash condition in a physical laboratory is difficult and expensive. As a result, many door latches that pass laboratory testing fail in real crash conditions. Recently, however, door latch designers have begun to use special computer software to test door latch strength in a virtual laboratory before physical laboratory testing. Hopefully, safer door latches will result.
A door latch defect may involve:

  • Design flaws
  • Manufacturing mistakes
  • Insufficient consumer warnings
  • Inadequate directions for safe usage

Injuries resulting from defective door latches can be very serious, if not fatal. They include:

  • Broken bones
  • Amputation
  • Road abrasions
  • Death
  • Paralysis
  • Brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries

Door Latch Defects

Defective door latches have multiple causes. For example:

  • When the door shuts the latch doesn’t shut completely
  • Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are not met. Currently, a door latch must be able to sustain an inertial load of 30 Gs (thirty times the force of gravity) during a crash scenario
  • The manufacturer uses outdated technology
  • Door skin defects
  • Twist-outs
  • Failure to warn
  • Auto-lock failure

A particular problem to note is the auto-lock. In cars and trucks that are not equipped with these electronic door locking devices, when a door is closed fully, the door latch engages manually. If the latch is strong enough, the door should remain locked in the event of an accident. In vehicles that do have these devices, drivers are not warned sufficiently in many cases that unless they directly engage the locking device once the car’s doors are closed, those doors will likely fly open in an accident and result in either someone being ejected from the vehicle or subjected to injuries sustained because of roof crush.

Door Latch Recalls
The Ford Focus, four door and five door models manufactured from 2000 to 2002, may have door latch defects, and as many as 360,000 of these vehicles have been recalled by the Ford Motor Company. The defect occurs when the door latches become corroded and prevent the door from remaining closed. In some cases the door may not be able to open due to the buildup of corrosion. The following lists some of the other Ford vehicles that have been reported to have defective door latches:

  • 1997-2000 Ford F-150 trucks
  • 1997-2000 Ford Expeditions
  • 1997-2000 Ford F-250 Super Light Duty trucks
  • 2000 Ford F-150 Super Crew trucks

Consult a Door Latch Legal Expert
A door latch is indeed a small detail in a car’s safety equipment, but the implications of a defective latch are life changing. When a door flies open unexpectedly, especially during an accident, passengers are often thrown from the vehicle and killed or seriously injured. At high speeds passengers have been known to suffer traumatic head injuries and spinal injuries, which can lead to death, paraplegia or other permanent disability. If someone is injured as the result of an accident where they’ve been ejected from a vehicle, a defective door latch could have been a contributing factor. By consulting a legal expert experienced with product defect laws, an injured person can protect their rights to recover financial compensations for injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.