Automobile’s Defective Roof Header Leads to Head and Spinal Cord Injury


This case involves a mid-sized sedan. The plaintiff, a forty-five-year-old man, was traveling south on a major highway when he was struck from the front by the wheel and tire assembly that had detached from a truck that was on the other side of the highway. The tire rolled across the hood of the plaintiff’s car and crossed the header over the windshield and above the plaintiff’s head. The upper header of the plaintiff’s car slid out of its unattached position at the side rails along with the roofing skin into the passenger safety compartment of the car. This caused the roof structure of the car to hit the top of the plaintiff’s head, resulting in multiple fractures and leaving him paralyzed. The plaintiff later regained the ability to walk but was left permanently disabled due to central cord syndrome, which is an acute type of spinal cord injury. The plaintiff also suffered a mild traumatic brain injury and remains unable to work or participate in many activities of daily life as the result of the accident.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • Can a two-piece front header in a car cause head injuries and is this type of roof design dangerous if the header is impacted in an accident?

Expert Witness Response

In some cars, the upper piece of the two-piece front header that spans the distance between the two side rails over the driver’s head and windshield lacks any direct attachment at that joint tying the upper header into the side rails. This can cause the header to lack the strength necessary to withstand direct impacts which are directed into the header from a frontal or off-frontal position. The roof design of this type of car would be safer if it had roof headers with very strong attachment points at the joint. The most common design for car roofs is to have the roof header panel attached to the side rails of the roof’s skeleton. When the energy forces in a car accident are very high, there is a good chance that the header may be unable to withstand the impact. Generally, a car would have to be made with a header design that remains attached in order for a driver not to suffer this type of head injury in a high-impact accident. The roof structure in some cars can be dangerous because it is not able to absorb and manage energy forces when the car is impacted in order to ensure the passenger’s safety. The design of the roof header in some cars presents a danger to passengers because the header is not affixed to the sides of the roof’s skeleton and this type of design does not permit the car to absorb the forces that can strike the roof of the car in an accident.

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