Defective Seat Belts Cause Serious Injury and Death
There is no denying that safety belts save thousands of lives each year in the United States. Some statistics suggest wearing a seat belt may cut the front-seat risk of fatal injury by up to 50 percent. However, many passengers involved in accidents wearing their safety belts still sustain serious injuries and may be killed if the seat belt does not function as intended. When issues of seat belt effectiveness arise, and victims of traffic accidents are injured or killed, legal action against an automaker is a likely course to consider.
Auto passengers understandably rely on certain safety features when accidents occur on the road. In times when factory-installed safety features like airbags and seat belts do not work properly, the corporations and manufacturers of those defective products must be held responsible.
Joe Lyon is a highly-rated Cincinnati Catastrophic Injury and Ohio product liability lawyer representing plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of consumer product liability and automobile defect cases.
Types of Safety Belt Failure
Unlatching & False Latching: During a collision, a seat belt many become unlatched, allowing the latch plate to pull out of the buckle. Some in the auto industry deny that a seat belt can instantly unlatch, though recent testing has demonstrated that seat belts may be susceptible to this phenomenon. False latching occurs when the latch plate appears to be latched when inserted into the buckle but is actually not engaged, and the smallest amount of force can cause the buckle to release.
Torn or Ripped Belt Webbing: Seat belt webbing is designed to withstand the forces of an accident without ripping or tearing. So when there is evidence of damaged webbing, it could be a result of a material defect or manufacturing flaw.
Retractor Failure: The seat belt retractor is designed to lock the seat belt in place in the event of an accident. But retractors have been known to fail to lock because of design defects, potentially causing serious injury to passengers.
Excessive Spooling: Spooling occurs when an excess amount of the seat belt webbing is released during a collision. Instead of securing an occupant, the seat belt slackens. This defect is typically due to a faulty retractor.
Poor Seat Belt Design: Poor safety belt design can contribute to serious passenger injuries, particularly in rollovers. The safest belt anchor location is on the seat itself, but many vehicles have anchors placed on the vehicle floor, often behind the occupant’s seat.
Software Defect: With automobiles increasingly reliant on computer-engaged safety features, drivers and passengers are at the mercy of these integrated systems. Even seat belts may not function properly if there is a defect in the car’s computer software.
Entire System Failure: Seat belts are only as safe as the vehicle’s seats and surrounding structure. If the seats fail, safety belt effectiveness is significantly reduced or nullified completely.
Defective Seat Belts Case Example:
In April 2007, Joseph M. Lyon, along with co-counsel, his father, Michael F. Lyon, settled a case on behalf of a 14-year-old boy from Mansfield Ohio who suffered a frontal lobe brain injury and facial deformity following an auto accident where his seat belt failed. Through extensive litigation, it was shown the seat belt buckle was defective in design, and the manufacturer was further negligent in failing to recall.
Specifically, the seat belt buckle was defectively designed to inadvertently release during foreseeable accident sequences, and therefore the buckle design created a heightened risk of false latching. Mr. Lyon presented evidence that the company knew of the defect yet failed to adequately warn or recall the seat belt buckle. After two years of litigation, the parties reached a settlement two weeks before trial for a confidential amount that will provide the care and security for the minor child for the rest of his life.
Identifying Defective Seat Belts & Belt Failures
Evidence that a seat belt failed during a collision because of a design or manufacturing defect is often subtle and can be difficult to identify in the wake of the accident. If a belt failure is suspected, however, it is important to preserve the vehicle and the seat belt system as much as possible for legal evidence.
Each accident is different, and presents numerous factors that may require specialists, collision engineers and legal experts to determine what contributed to an injury or fatality. The following circumstances may help to detect a defective safety belt:
- A passenger wearing a seat belt makes contact with the windshield.
- Serious injuries are sustained to a belted passenger in a minor collision.
- The seat belt webbing is found torn or ripped.
- An injured passenger is discovered wearing a loose-fitting seat belt.
- A passenger is found un-belted but insists he or she was secured in a seat belt.
- Two belted passengers in the same vehicle endure an accident and one passenger suffers much worse injuries than the other.
Common Injuries Sustained from Defective Seat Belts
When serious road accidents occur, passengers may sustain several types of serious injuries, including the following:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Limb injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Orthopedic trauma
- Severe whiplash
- Wrongful death
Companies Targeted in Defective Seat Belt Lawsuits
The following automakers have admitted safety feature failures and defective seat belts, and have subsequently recalled entire fleets of vehicles because of their failure to provide safe, road-worthy products:
Fiat Chrysler—In September 2016, Fiat-Chrysler recalled two million vehicles with defective seat belts and airbags.
Ford Motor—In, December 2016, Ford recalled almost 700,000 cars, some already on the market and over three years old, due to malfunctioning safety belts that have reportedly already caused road injuries. In a statement, a Ford Motor spokesman admitted that their product was inadequate and increased the risk of injury.
General Motors—In September 2016, GM recalled over 4 million cars with defective software that may directly affect seat belt and air bag effectiveness, an issue that is reportedly already responsible for one road fatality.
Hyundai—The Korean automaker recalled almost a million vehicles for defects related to the seat belt assembly.
Toyota—In February 2016, Toyota Motor recalled 2.9 million vehicles because of a malfunctioning seat belt assembly.
BMW—BMW of North America recalled several models in December 2016, for defective software that affects the effectiveness of its safety belts.
Compensation for Victims of Defective Seat Belts
If you have been injured in a car accident and suspect it may have been due at least in part to a defective seat belt, it is critical to preserve the evidence and contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
An experienced product liability lawyer can assist in evaluating contributing causes of an injury. To build a compelling product liability case, there must be evidence that the design of the seat belt was defective or a manufacturing defect existed.
The Lyon Firm works with design experts and collision engineers to trace the defect back to a design or manufacturing source. Compensation may be awarded for incurred and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, as well as punitive damages against an automaker for disregard for the road safety of passengers.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to a defective safety belt, and have questions about the legal remedies available to improve quality of life and medical care, contact The Lyon Firm at (800) 513-2403. You will speak directly with Mr. Lyon, and he will help you answer these critical questions.