Who’s liable for improper automotive electrical wiring?

While operating his vehicle, the insured smelled smoke, stopped the vehicle and opened the hood to assess the situation. He noticed a glowing wire generating smoke. Suddenly, a fire developed in the instrument panel of the occupant compartment, causing a total loss of the vehicle. Since the insured observed a glowing wire in the engine compartment, the wiring in that area was inspected. A power wire was found attached to a battery post as shown in Figure 2. The wire insulation was badly burned, consistent with excessive current flow, which could cause a fire. The battery was in good condition. The arrow in Figure 3 shows the burned wire routed through the bulkhead at an air conditioner tube penetration. The wire is badly burned, but the engine compartment was undamaged, meaning that a failure in the occupant compartment caused the excessive current and not any failure in the engine compartment. Related: Defective airbags found in repaired BMWs, prompting fresh recall Tracing the wire through the firewall resulted in the discovery of the melted end (as shown in Figure 4) near a stereo system, mounted under the instrument panel. The melted conductor strands at the end of the wire as indicated by the arrow were evidence of an electrical fault (short circuit). This wire was routed in an area where chaffing of the protective wire insulation was likely causing a short circuit, melting of the conductor and ignition of material in the instrument panel near the stereo. Related: Takata to pay $1 billion, plead guilty in U.S. air bag probe It is apparent that the installation of the stereo system was not performed in a professional manner. The connection to the battery using the battery clamp is not proper. A wire termination should be used and connected to an auxiliary terminal in the fuse block of the vehicle if possible. Figure 5 is a view of a typical fuse/relay block in a vehicle. Many of these fuse blocks have unused terminals explicitly for the installation of aftermarket electrical equipment. It is also good practice to use a fuse or resettable breaker in the power wire circuit to provide protection in case a fault occurs. Finally, the routing of the wire over a sharp metal structural member is improper, since it often results in wire chaffing and an electrical fault. This particular installation is deficient, suggesting that the installer is a possible target of subrogation. Charles C. Roberts, Jr., Ph.D., P.E., (ccr@croberts.com) is president of C. Roberts Consulting Engineers, Inc., which provides professional engineering services in accident reconstruction, failure analysis, fire causation, explosion analysis, and biomechanics.


About John Fagan

John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981. John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder. In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home. John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation. Professional Activities John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates. Service to the Community John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
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