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Henning, Keedy & Lee
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How Safe Is Your RV Motorhome?

Prevost Bus Conversion Motor Home

Late last month I began a long trip involving depositions and meetings with clients, experts, and witnesses in several cases.

Lee C. Henning, P.C. Mobile Office hauling car

I decided to take the “Lee C. Henning, P.C. Mobile Office” which is a 40-foot Class A motor home.

As we were traveling through the great wasteland of northern Nevada, it became very windy. Moving west on the divided highway, I saw a pull camper that had apparently tipped over in the wind and largely disintegrated. An emergency vehicle was already on scene so we did not stop.

Trailer destroyed

Trailer tipped over on the road

Attached are photographs of two similar incidents involving campers that turned over on other roads. As you can see, these campers were also completely destroyed, even though the impact involved in tipping over was relatively modest.

As I continued on that long drive, I considered a case I had handled years ago, of a horrible RV incident in which one man was injured and his father was killed. This occurred as they were driving down the freeway in eastern Montana, and the RV simply caught on fire. The son pulled the RV to the side of the road, but before he could get the vehicle stopped it was already engulfed in flame. The father stepped out of the main door to the RV (located mid-way down the passenger side of the rig). At just that moment, the propane tank discharged through the pressure valve (the tanks are designed to discharge rather than risk explosion when heat causes the propane to expand). The propane immediately ignited when it discharged from the tank. The unfortunate man effectively walked through a propane torch as he exited the RV. His last words to his son were “Tell your mother I love her.” After surviving for approximately 30 days in a major burn unit, the man died of his injuries.

We worked that case for almost three years through extensive litigation before finally reaching a favorable settlement. In the process of developing the case, I spoke with a number of experts concerning vehicle safety, and more specifically concerning recreational vehicle safety. I was amazed at what I learned about the relative lack of safety in many RVs that we Americans use every year for fun. In this series of posts, I will discuss some of the information I learned, and hopefully provide some interesting and thought-provoking information. Ideally, you may consider some of the issues I discuss and save the life of yourself or a loved one.

Different Classes of Recreational Vehicles

Traditionally, recreational vehicles are divided into various categories. Self-propelled motor homes are divided into classes A, B and C. Class A’s are generally very large motorized RVs built on truck chassis.

Class A Motorhome

If you take a stripped down truck chassis, put a trailer on it, and alter the front so you can drive it down the road, you will have the most basic Class A motor home. A smaller number of Class A motor homes are built on bus chassis. Many Class A models have slide-outs that provide extra living space when parked.

Class B Motorhome

Class B motor homes are RVs built on a van chassis. A Class B model is essentially a decked-out passenger van designed to sleep and eat in. This type of RV is often called a “van conversion.” Some Class B RVs may have so much customization that they share more similarities to Class C RVs.

Class C Motorhome

A Class C motor home is an RV built on a small truck chassis, like a U-Haul truck equipped to live in. The overhang over the driver’s compartment generally serves as an extra sleeping area. Some larger Class C RVs are also designed with slide-outs for extra room when parked.

In addition to the motorized RVs, there are also towable RVs and pickup campers. Towable RVs do not have a motor, and instead are pulled behind a truck or a car. Towable RVs range from small to large, bare bones to full amenities. There are basically three different types of towable RVs: 1) Fifth-wheel trailers, 2) Travel trailers, and 3) Pop-up trailers. In addition to these kinds of RVs, many people also have pickup campers, which are small RVs attached temporarily to the beds of their pickup trucks.

All of these recreational vehicles share the benefit of being a highly mobile living space. The mobility means the vehicles share the dangers associated with motor vehicle accidents. The living space means these vehicles share the risks associated with homes.

Indeed, the largest two types of dangers associated with recreational vehicles involve these two issues: Mobility, which requires consideration of crash-worthiness, and living space (with various flammable materials) which requires consideration primarily of fire dangers. In next weeks post, I will discuss each of these issues.

About the Author

Lee HenningLee Henning is one of the founding partners of Henning, Keedy & Lee P.L.L.C. In 1995 Lee and his family relocated to the Flathead Valley, and he now practices throughout the state of Montana.View all posts by Lee Henning →

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