Automobile’s Defective Electrical Sunroof Causes Fire and Leads to Child’s Death


defective electrical connectorThis electronic systems case involves the death of a young child from a fire sparked in her family’s minivan by the explosion of its panoramic sunroof. The plaintiff’s three-year-old daughter was playing in the family minivan along with her twin brother. The engine was off and the keys were not in the ignition at the time. The glass of the panoramic sunroof suddenly buckled, shattering and sending glass shards, causing a fire to start in the passenger compartment of the van. The fire quickly engulfed the passenger side of the van. The plaintiff’s daughter suffered third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body and later died at the hospital from her injuries that same day.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Is the instrument panel in a minivan unreasonably dangerous because undesired electrical activity might cause a fire in the vehicle?

Expert Witness Response

The lower portion of the instrument panel in some minivans near the wiring harness, cigarette lighter and controls for the heating and AC system might cause electrical activity that emanates from the wires or connectors in this area. In some minivans, the electrical components may fail and result in a fire, even though the ignition key is in the “off” position. In some cases, a fire may start at the interior driver and center dash area if there is a failure of the wiring harness conductors and/or the adjacent components which are located at the interior center or driver side dash area of the vehicle. A fire in a minivan that originates in the dashboard may be caused if there is an electrical malfunction within the dashboard. An electrical malfunction in the dashboard area can lead to a large current drain and this may cause a fire in the vehicle. An electrical abnormality related to the wiring harness of the electronic cluster board may cause this type of fire in a vehicle. A faulty connection at the rear of the cigarette lighter socket might also cause a fire in a vehicle. Combustible materials, such as electrical wiring insulation, plastic wire ties, and plastic electrical connectors can all serve as fuel sources which can start an off-key electrical dashboard fire in a vehicle. These types of fires can result from a failure in the wiring harness under the dashboard and may cause a fatality when the car quickly fills with smoke. An electrical wire in a harness may short in such a way that it becomes very hot and this may cause the vinyl coating on the wire, and those wires surrounding it, to melt and then ignite. This type of dashboard fire can consume the interior of a vehicle very quickly and cause fatalities.

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