Seat Belt Defects and Spinal Cord Injury | The Lyon Firm 
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Seat Belt Defects Linked to Spinal Cord Injuries

Product Liability Lawyer and Personal Injury Attorney reviews Seat Belt Defects and related injuries for plaintiffs nationwide


Seat belt defects can pose serious safety risks. Design defects may be the primary issue. Lap seat belts and three-point seat belts are the most common types of safety belts used in the vehicles. A lap seat belt is a two-point strap, going over one’s waist/pelvic area, which should remain on the pelvis during accident sequences and is designed to hold a person in a car seat. Seat belt syndrome is often mentioned in the association with the lap seat belts use in the vehicles.

According to CPSafety, lap belts are perfectly safe, when used to install a harnessed child safety restraint. However, they provide poor protection to the lap belted person, endangering neck, head, spine and internal organs. This articles addresses those risks and ways to limit them.

The Lyon Firm has success handling cases arising from lap belt defects and other seat belt defects. These cases require intense investigation and prompt evidence preservation.  The attorney must be familiar the current state of seat belt design and preemption defenses.

The issues are complex and different in every case, so it is imperative to move quickly following an accident where an occupant suffered a lap-belt injury. Call (800) 513-2403 for an immediate and no cost consultation. 

seat belt defects


Risks of Submarining With Lap-Only Seat Belts: Seat Belt Defects and Defective Seat Cushions

Car engineers have developed a whole range of car safety devices and systems to safely protect passengers during a collision and accident forces.(1) Experts generally define active and passive car safety devices, where active safety is mostly referred to the systems and devices, which help prevent a crush or collision (for example, brakes), and passive safety is mostly associated with the devices, such as seat belts and airbags, which help protect car occupants during a crush.  Passive safety devices are often mentioned as the vehicle restraint system, because their major task is to prevent unsafe movements of occupants during a crush and thus avoid personal injury damages from hitting a steering wheel, windscreen, or dashboard. Ideally, the seat cushion, safety belts and airbags should work as one unified restraint system to protect people.(2)

Seat Belt Recalls are hardly uncommon, and car makers and safety agencies announce several recalls each year.


Lap Seat Belts & Three-point Seat Belt Defects

Lap seat belts and three-point seat belts are the most common types of safety belts used in the vehicles. A lap seat belt is a two-point strap, going over one’s waist/pelvic area, which should remain on the pelvis during accident sequences and is designed to hold a person in a car seat. Three-point seat belts have three points of mounting: two at either side of one’s waist area, and the third one – behind the shoulder. Three-point seat belts are considered to be a standard equipment in the modern car-making industry since 2004, and they provide far more protection during a car crush in comparison to the older lap seat belts because they full restrain the upper torso.(4) However, lap belts are still present in many older cars.


Seat Belt Defects & Seat Belt Syndrome

Seat belt syndrome is often mentioned in the association with the lap seat belts use in the vehicles. According to CPSafety, lap belts are perfectly safe, when used to install a harnessed child safety restraint. However, they provide poor protection to the lap belted person, endangering neck, head, spine and internal organs.

Seat belt syndrome is typically associated with the following injuries:

  1. Abdominal organs damages
  2. Bowel rapture
  3. Lumbar spine fractures
  4. Ruptured Liver
  5. Closed head and facial injuries

The above mentioned injuries can result from two peculiarities of the lap belts use. First, the occupant submarines under the belt and with the lap belt extreme force is applied to the occupant’s abdominal area during a collision. Second, since the lap belt secures only the waist but not the torso, the human body jackknives over the lap belt during a crush. As the result, serious injuries to the head and neck are common when a lap belt used. (5)

The Lyon Firm works with accident reconstruction experts to determine the root cause of car accidents and subsequent injuries. In any car collision the motorists and passengers should be able to rely on the auto safety mechanisms in place to assist in protecting their well-being. However, defective seat belts, defective airbags, and other failing auto components can place people at added risk.

Contact a car accident attorney to investigate faulty seat belts, and to seek compensation related to medical expenses, pain and suffering, disability, lost wages or other damages.


Submarining Risks & Seat Belt Defects

Submarining or moving down and forward into the seat during the accident is another risk, associated with the use of seat belts. In this situation, the lap belt moves from pelvis to the abdomen and can cause serious injuries to the internal organs of the abdomen area. There were several ideas suggested to solve the problem and reduce submarining risks. Thus, some car seats have metal bars beneath the car seat cushion. Another inventor suggested using a small air-bag located in the seat cushion to prevent sliding of the driver or passenger beneath the safety belt.


Faulty Lap Belts & Lawsuits

However, the submarining risks are underestimated by the car manufacturers. The study “Procedure to Assess Submarining in Frontal Impact” by Stephane Couturier et al. explains why this potentially life-threatening effect does not receive enough attention today. According to the study authors, current anthropometric device, known as HIII dummy, does not mimic properly how the human body behaves in the real life crash situation.

The HIII dummy has a very stiff lumbar spine, which excludes pelvis rotation – one of the key factors, which make the lap belt move upward to the abdomen.(8) The study authors conducted a crash test using HIII dummy and found no submarining effect. However, when they substituted HIII with the previously used HII dummy, the results of the same test were different. HII has softer spine, which is more close to the real human spine, and in this situation scientists did record the submarining effect, when the lap belt moved from the pelvis to the softer abdominal area during the crash.(8)


  1. Wikipedia. Automobile safety. Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automobile_safety#Active_and_passive_safety Accessed on January 21, 2010.
  2. Wikipedia. Seat belts. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seat_belt Accessed on January 21, 2010.
  3. Whatcar.com web site. Three-point seat belts. Available at: http://www.whatcar.com/car-advice/glossary/T/three-point-seatbelt/3160041 Accessed on January 21, 2010.
  4. CPSafety web site. Information on lap belts. Available at: http://www.cpsafety.com/articles/lapbelts.aspxAccessed on January 21, 2010.
  5. WrongDiagnosis.com web site. Available at:http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/s/seat_belt_syndrome/intro.htm Accessed on January 21, 2010.
  6. New Scientist web site. No more submarining. Available at:http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16321991.200-no-more-submarining.html Accessed on January 21, 2010.
  7. NHTSA web site. The Procedure to Assess Submarining In Frontal Impact. Available at: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/esv/esv20/07-0481-O.pdf

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