What To Do If You Own An Unsafe Minicar

Determining Liability in New Minicar Testings

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By Brian Albert
Special to THELAW.TV

Everyone may think that small car is cute, but its safety isn't so certain.

A crash test report released this week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives poor safety ratings to almost every car in the "minicar" class. This includes best-sellers like the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and Toyota Prius C.

"Only 1 minicar out of 11 tested achieves an acceptable rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's small overlap front crash test, making these tiny vehicles the worst performing group of any evaluated so far," the IIHS reported.

The Chevrolet Spark was the only model in the group that received an overall rating of "Acceptable." No car received the highest rating of "Good" and all of the others were rated "Marginal" or "Poor." See the complete crash test results here.

"It's important that consumers keep these reports in mind when making purchasing decisions, as it could mean the difference between a minor or major injury and death on the highway," says Tampa, Florida personal injury lawyer Christian Denmon. "Many of the personal injury cases I've handled involving minicars have resulted in significant worse injuries than medium or large vehicles. "

The IIHS tests are often more stringent than the federal government's own auto safety analysis.

"Consumers looking for the safest car for their family should look well beyond governmental ratings when assessing a car's safety," adds Boston, Massachusetts personal injury attorney David McCormack.

The IIHS performed this same small overlap front crash on a seventeen popular cars in the "small car" category — a group of cars slightly larger than minicars — with most cars in that class receiving "Good" or "Acceptable" ratings.

The message from the IIHS: the smaller the car, the more dangerous it is.

"Consumers have to realize the risk of serious injury or death in an accident in one of these vehicles that would not likely happen in a bigger car," says Chicago, Illinois personal injury attorney Patrick Salvi.

But TopSpeed editor Justin Culper says it may be too early to make big conclusions.

"Plenty of cars in all segments performed marginal to poorly in the "small overlap" test when it first came out in 2012," says Culper. "Over the last few years, automakers have started addressing this issue and we are seeing fewer marginal and poor ratings in this test as a whole."

Are you considering buying a minicar — or do you already have one? If so, here's some advice from automotive expert Jordan Perch at DMV.com:

How will this study about minicars affect my insurance premiums?

"Clearly, when it comes to insurance, cars that have better safety ratings get better insurance rates. The report released by the IIHS will inevitably increase insurance premiums for owners of small cars, because results from the tests they have conducted suggest that small cars provide much less protection for their occupants, translating into higher cost of injuries that those occupants sustain in a crash."

What should I do if I own one of these cars that just got a poor safety rating?

"In case you own one of these minicars with poor safety ratings, there is one thing that you can do to try and make it safer. You should equip it with as many safety features as possible, such as side air bags, stability control, emergency braking assist, which can help protect passengers and avoid collisions. Additionally, adding such features to your car can help you get lower insurance premiums."

If you already drive one of these minicars that's been deemed unsafe, and if you get in an accident, these new findings may play a role in determining liability.

"The other driver may attempt to claim that you share some of the responsibility for driving a car with such poor crashworthiness, say West Palm Beach, Florida personal injury lawyer William Abel. "It is a novel defense, but depending upon the available evidence such a defense may make it into court. Of course, defendants always attempt to point the finger at someone else."

The author, Brian Albert, is an attorney and the founder of legal information website THELAW.TV.

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