Have You Been Injured? We're Ready to Fight for You.

Old Church Vans Still Placing Lives at Risk

Published on May 15, 2018 at 12:15 pm in Auto Product Liability.

Transportation safety officials at organizations like the NHTSA have known since 2001 that 15-passenger vans are prone to roll over in a crash when loaded with passengers. Officials have delivered safety warnings to carmakers as well as the public. Still, there are many churches and organizations all over Kentucky, in Louisville, and nationwide that depend on these vans and use them on a daily basis to transport passengers—often including children—to where they need to be.

According to a recent investigation launched by Courier Journal, 600 people have been killed in single-vehicle rollovers involving 15-passenger vans since the safety warnings were issued 17 years ago. The most common vans in these accidents are made by Ford, Chrysler, and GM. The 2002 Ford E350 is one of the most well-known accident-causing culprits.

Courier Journal analyzed millions of crash records from six states between 2004 and 2017 and found that the older vans that lack modern safety features have about a 52% chance of rolling over in a crash when filled with passengers and traveling at standard highway speeds. The NHTSA’s findings were similar. The organization found that the center of gravity shifts in these vans as more passengers are inside, raising the likelihood of a rollover if the driver must make a sharp turn or swerve.

According to the Courier’s research, 71% of deaths in 15-passenger vans happen during rollover crashes. When creating these vans, Ford and Chrysler extended the bodies of the vans designed to carry 12 passengers to allow an extra row of seats. The same wheelbase, or distance between the axles, was used as in the smaller vans.

Evidence shows that in a past lawsuit against Ford for a 15-passenger van accident, product planners recommended extending the wheelbase and adding dual rear wheels. This recommendation wasn’t followed. Newer models feature longer wheelbases as well as electronic stability control that help drivers avoid swerving, but the older models were not updated. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it’s estimated that about 600,000 older 15-passenger vans remain on the road today.

Ford has historically dominated the 15-passenger van market. The company has also fiercely disputed safety advisories and fought government requests to make their vans safer. In 2003, when the National Transportation Board advised Ford and GM to improve rollover passenger protection, GM complied but Ford did not. Ford was also a year behind GM in releasing newer van models that featured electronic stability control, a breaking system that helps drivers remain in control in emergencies/on slick surfaces.

While it’s possible to retrofit older models, the high costs of doing so make it an unrealistic task for most churches and groups that use them. Ford and GM have not issued any recalls for the older vans and fight every request to do so. During a 2012 lawsuit, a Ford representative stated that the older vans are fine without retrofitted upgrades and perform “reasonably safe if used in a reasonable way.” The defendants tried to claim that the NHTSA’s data was flawed.

In a case involving a 1996 crash, it was suggested that Ford may have not performed adequate simulations to measure the effectiveness of design and factors that contribute to loss of control during rollovers. The plaintiffs’ attorney found evidence suggesting that Ford did the tests but hid the results. The case was settled outside of court.

Accidents continue to happen to this day involving the older 15-passenger vans. Many churches do not know they are dangerous and that multiple lawsuits have been filed against Ford. The most recent lawsuit happened in December 2017 in Missouri. Ford argued that the van was safe even though the accident led to one death and 11 injuries.

One solution is to regulate groups that buy/use these vehicles and/or require van drivers to obtain a commercial driver’s license which may lower the amount of accidents that occur. Unfortunately, either solution is complex and will not take shape easily. Until that point, churches and other organizations are encouraged to remove the rear seats from 15-passenger vans, perform regular inspections, install dual wheels, and only allow experienced drivers to get behind the wheel.

Free Case Evaluation

At Thomas Law Offices, our personal injury attorneys recognize that our potential clients are likely going through some of the most difficult times of their lives. We don't want you to have to worry about paying out of pocket for legal advice when you're just starting to learn your legal rights and options. That's why we provide free case evaluations. We'll offer our expert advice about your potential case and walk you through how we can help you.

Call us or fill out the form below to tell us about your potential case and a personal injury lawyer will get back to you as quickly as possible.

Meet Our Founder

Tad Thomas - Trial Lawyer

Tad Thomas

Managing Partner

Tad Thomas has dedicated his practice to representing plaintiffs in various types of civil litigation, including personal injury, business litigation, class actions, and multi-district litigation.

After graduating with his law degree in 2000 from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, Mr. Thomas immediately opened his own private practice and began representing injury victims.

In 2011, Thomas Law Offices was established in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the past decade, Mr. Thomas has expanded his firm and now has offices in three additional locations: Cincinnati, Ohio, Columbia, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. He is also a frequent lecturer on topics like trial skills and ethics and technology.

Legal & Firm News

When Prior Authorization Leads to Harm Caused by Delayed Care

In March 2023, the American Medical Association (AMA) released the results of a survey conducted on the impact of health insurance prior authorization (PA) on patient care and outcomes. The survey results revealed shocking information about the extent to which health insurance companies control the type of medical care patients receive. At Thomas Law Offices, […]

Read More

How Do I Sue a Hospital for Medical Negligence?

Medical errors and other types of health care professional negligence have soared in recent years. Data recently published by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) shows that at least 251,000 patient deaths are estimated to be attributable to physician mistakes or other types of medical errors annually. Countless others fall ill or suffer injuries while […]

Read More

Ohio Car and Booster Seat Laws

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic crashes are the leading cause of death and disability for children (aged 0-14) in the United States. But most of these deaths can be prevented. When we put our children in the car, we owe it to them to give them the safest experience possible. […]

Read More
Tad Thomas on The National Crime Victim Bar Association
National Civil Justice Institute - Trustee
Tad Thomas on Lawyer Minds
Tad Thomas on American Association for Justice
Southern Trial Lawyers Association
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
Ohio Association for Justice
Kentucky Justice Association
Fellows of the Litigation Counsel of America
Martindale Hubbell Preeminent
2021 Public Justice Member
AAJ Masters of Trial Law: Champion