The fallout continues from the September 1 car crash involving actor Kevin Hart and two other individuals. All three have hired attorneys ahead of possible lawsuits.
According to TMZ, there’s a good chance that Hart might be sued since his 1970 resto-mod Plymouth Barracuda had no safety harnesses, airbags or anything else that would protect people riding in it. Having no safety system makes it appear that Hart was more concerned with his car’s authenticity than its safety. Since he failed to install safety equipment, a court can establish negligence on his part.
It’s also possible that Hart and the other passenger, Rebecca Broxterman, will sue the driver, Hart’s buddy Jared Black. But until the California Highway Patrol wraps up its investigation of the cause of the crash, it’s too soon to tell if or when this will happen.
Are car customization companies legally responsible?
A key question involves the legal burden of the company that customized Hart’s ‘Cuda. Speedkore might be sued because it has expert automotive knowledge, in the eyes of the law. Therefore, it’s expected to follow through by making the car safe.
The company should have refused the job even if Kevin Hart insisted on having the car modified without safety harnesses. Having no safety system on a car that makes 720 hp not only is dangerous for the car’s occupants but also opens the door to lawsuits.
TMZ reached out to car customization companies throughout the U.S. The news outlet wanted to find out whether Hart’s accident prompted these companies to reconsider modifying classic cars without installing safety harnesses. Eight out of 10 companies that they would not install the harnesses if that was what the customer requested. Only two said they would install the harnesses regardless. But the companies skipping the safety harness at the request of a customer risk getting sued, especially if passengers in the customized car are injured.
To prevent custom car companies from modifying vehicles without installing safety harnesses, the CHP is considering lobbying the California State Legislature. If the legislature passes a law to mandate safety harnesses in resto-mod cars, it won’t matter if the customers want the restraints.
Another legal aspect of this issue is that Kevin Hart’s car was released in a year when safety harnesses weren’t required. So his car, like many other older classic cars, were grandfathered into the more recent seatbelt law. But CHP contends that even if his car didn’t require seat restraints by law, he and his passengers would not have sustained the injuries they did if there were safety harnesses.
Safety harnesses alone aren’t the answer
Yet there’s a hard sticking point in CHP’s earnest attempt to safeguard the occupants of these cars. By itself, a safety harness is not enough protection. A five-point safety harness is normally just one component in a race car safety system. Other parts of the system include a roll cage and a helmet.
Taken together, they can provide adequate crash protection. The safety harness keeps the driver from bouncing into the windshield or into the roof. Also, if the car goes shiny side down and flips, the roll cage prevents its roof from collapse. Most importantly, the helmet protects the driver’s skull upon impact.
Equipping cars normally driven on the street with a complete racing safety system is problematic. At the core of the problem is the helmet. Many states, including California, don’t permit vehicle drivers to wear anything that obstructs their vision, and that includes helmets.
A street-legal classic muscle car can be equipped with safety harnesses and a roll cage. But without helmets, they make the car even more dangerous. The car’s occupants are belted in but could hit the metal roll cage with no head protection.
Mixing components of a race car’s safety equipment with those of a regular car wouldn’t make these cars safer, either. Safety devices for a regular car include three-point inertia seatbelts, airbags, and soft interior surfaces. To combine components from each system would be about as unsafe as a race car safety system that doesn’t include helmets.
Kevin Hart and his passengers were lucky to survive that wreck on Mulholland Drive, even if lawsuits loom over everyone involved. But it’s clear that a law to protect drivers like Hart needs to be well-thought-out because safety harnesses alone won’t help. An effective solution means that decision-makers need to take a careful look at what all of the necessary safety devices for resto-mod cars should be, and not just one.