Airbags save lives, and for this reason, they are a requirement in new cars and light trucks. However, if an airbag deploys in the wrong circumstances, it may injure or kill the vehicle's occupant. It may also be disastrous if the canister that holds the airbag is defective. Many people die in low speed crashes due to faulty airbags. Many other people have sustained injuries because of faulty airbags. The injuries from defective airbags may range from minor to severe and permanent damage. It is common for victims to suffer burns and brain damage and, in some instances, death due to defective airbags. If you or your loved one has suffered injuries resulting from car accidents, we at The LA Personal Injury Law Firm can help you seek compensation.
Overview of Airbag Defects
Many people put in a lot of time and effort and conduct vast research to find the perfect vehicle. The aim is usually to find a car that is not only affordable but also safe and reliable. When you finally find your dream car, you would expect it to be in good working condition. It may be devastating to learn that your vehicle has defects that could do more harm than good to you and your family.
Airbags have been a requirement in vehicles for more than twenty years. In many road crashes, airbags help save the lives of thousands of people. However, defective airbags also contribute to injuries and deaths of numerous people, and this fact is alarming. The very feature that is supposed to save your life may inflict injuries or death if it is defective. Defective airbags fatalities continue to decrease with the advancement in technology. The casualties also continue to decline due to the introduction of new safety regulations. The issue of defective airbags in the U.S was so big that it led to a massive airbag recall. The nationwide consumer safety recall has affected several million airbags in different areas.
Airbags in the U.S
Automakers in America began putting airbags in vehicles in the 1970s, and it is during this time that airbag defects also became apparent. Airbags became a routine in cars in the 1980s. However, as airbags became more common, so did the injuries and deaths resulting from defective airbags. The U.S government made it mandatory for every vehicle manufactured after April 1, 1989, to have safety features. The manufacturers had to install automatic seatbelts or driver's side airbags. In 1998, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) gave a ruling requiring every vehicle to have dual front airbags. Airbags have saved the lives of numerous people since their inception but have also caused injuries and deaths of some other people.
An airbag may appear on different parts of a vehicle. Some of the common types of airbags include the rear knee airbags, side curtain airbags, head side-impact airbags, center airbags, and curtain shield airbags. To help protect passengers in the front and rear seats, seat-mounted curtain airbags are also typical. An airbag aims to offer additional safety to a driver or passenger in case of a vehicle crash. The airbag helps to reduce the danger of the vehicle occupant's body, striking the interior of the vehicle in case of a collision. Vehicles contain sensors, and if a vehicle decelerates suddenly, the sensors should prompt the airbags to deploy.
To understand defective airbags, you have to start by understanding how an airbag works. The primary role of airbags is to protect your head from injuries. The rationale behind airbags is simple; it is far safer to strike your head against a pillow filled with air than to hit your head on the interior of a vehicle. If you incur a collision of about 15moh, the sensors prompt the airbags to inflate.
Airbags are made from nylon fabric. In case of an accident, nitrogen gas fills the nylon fabric promptly before the front seat occupant can make direct contact with the vehicle's dashboard or the steering wheel. The airbags inflate fast, approximately within 1/20th of a second.
The sad part is that the explosive force with which airbags deploy may itself cause injuries on the vehicle occupant. You should not assume that airbags are soft pillows or cushions that comfortably shield you during a vehicle crash. As much as rapid inflation is an essential feature for the deployment of airbags, it may cause some injuries.
Airbags can help to prevent injuries in moderate or severe frontal or near-frontal vehicle crashes. When the airbag system electronic control senses a collision, the unit sends out a signal, which makes the frontal airbags to inflate abruptly. The side-impact airbags inflate at an even higher speed in case of a collision. If the vehicle occupant is sitting too close to an airbag as it inflates, serious injuries may occur. Manufacturers always advise vehicle occupants to ensure that the seat is as far behind as possible from the dashboard and the steering wheel.
You should wear a seatbelt because, in case of a vehicle crash, the seatbelt will hold you in place and ensure you are not too close to the dashboard. Also, avoid placing infants or young children in front of the airbag. According to the safety standards, children should sit on the rear seat and not the front. For short drivers who have to sit close to the steering wheel, you can deactivate the airbags.
However, too much force is not the only problem with airbags. At times, the airbag may fail to deploy, as it should, mainly because of some defects in its design or due to improper installation of the airbag. The good thing is that in California, you can recover for injuries resulting from defective airbags based on strict liability. The application of strict liability rules means that you do not have a burden to prove that the defendant was negligent.
How Defective Airbags Cause Injuries
Despite the high success rates of airbags, it is common for airbags to lead to injuries or even wrongful death in several scenarios. Some of the common ways in which airbags may lead to injuries include:
Presence of Manufacturing and Design Defects
In California, a company may be liable for designing, manufacturing, distributing, or selling defective products. Under the mentioned circumstances, the company would be strictly liable. The company may be particularly liable if injuries result, yet the vehicle occupant used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner. This implies that you do not have to prove the negligence of the defendant to prevail in the personal injury lawsuit.
For you to prevail in a lawsuit entailing defective airbags in California, several facts must be apparent. It must be evident that the defendant was responsible for designing, manufacturing, selling, and distributing the airbags or the components of the airbag. It must also be apparent that the airbag contained a defect. It must be apparent that at the time the airbag left the defendant's possession, the airbag contained the defect. The victim, also known as the plaintiff, must have used the airbag in a reasonably foreseeable manner before the accident. It must also be evident that the defect on the airbag caused damage or injury to the plaintiff.
How can you establish the existence of a defect in an airbag? It is not always easy to determine the presence of an error in an airbag. If there is evidence of similar accidents occurring due to the same airbag defects, it may be easy to establish that a defect existed. You should note that the mere fact that the manufacturer had issued a recall of the airbags does not serve as enough proof that a defect existed. For you to prove that an airbag had an error, you may require the testimony of an expert who can explain what happened at the time of the accident. The expert may also give an overview of what should have happened if the airbag was in good working condition.
Wrong/Poor Installation of Airbags
An airbag cannot work as it should if the airbag is not installed correctly. Improper installation of airbags is typical because not all body shop personnel have expert knowledge on the proper installation of airbags. The dealer or the body shop may face liability for the poor installation of airbags. Poor installation of the airbag may make it fail to deploy. Poor installation may also lead to deployment of the airbag with too much force leading to injuries. If you are purchasing a replacement airbag, You should purchase the airbag from a recommended dealer. You should also ensure that the dealer installs the airbag instead of seeking installation services from unqualified personnel.
Using the Airbag Improperly
In the case of airbag failure, the vehicle manufacturers and the repair shops are often quick to evade liability by claiming that the driver inappropriately used the airbag. For instance, you may be guilty of misusing an airbag if it is evident that you ignored or removed the airbag warning. However, the state of California follows a comparative negligence standard of liability. This means that there is the apportionment of fault, depending on the level of negligence. Therefore, even if you are partly to blame for your injuries, you are still entitled to compensation less your degree of fault. Consequently, you will always be able to recover damages even if your actions or your inactions partly contributed to your injuries.
Lack of Warning Labels
According to federal regulations, vehicles should contain specific warnings regarding the safe usage of airbags. The warnings should be in the form of warning labels or the form of audio-visual warning systems. It is common for some vehicle owners to ignore, dislike, or even remove the warnings. If you remove the warnings, sell the vehicle, and the buyer suffers injuries, you may be liable. Also, if you ignore or remove the airbags warning labels and you end up suffering injuries, the vehicle manufacturers or body shops may deny liability, making you partly to blame for the damages.
Upon the deployment of an airbag, the airbag should be disposed of and a new airbag installed. You should never attempt to reuse an airbag after deployment because the airbag may not work as it should. Some vehicle owners and repair shops may try to use short cuts by refolding the deployed airbags and fitting them back to the vehicle. Also, the repair shops may attempt to save costs by installing cheaper counterfeit bags. For instance, the repair shops may obtain un-deployed bags from wrecked vehicles in junkyards and install the airbags in a car.
It is unfortunate that in California, there is no law prohibiting the practice of recycling airbags or using counterfeit airbags. Before you even think of recycling or using counterfeit airbags, it is essential to know that recycled airbags have a higher risk of malfunctioning. You should seek an inspection of your vehicle's airbags, especially if another person and not the vehicle manufacturer replaced the airbags. You should not only arrange for a review of the airbags but also a replacement.
At times, you may be operating on a recalled airbag. Therefore, the big question is on how you can know that an airbag is recalled. You may rely on NHTSA's airbag frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. You may also contact your vehicle dealer to learn more about airbag recall.
Oversized Airbags –Too much inflation of an airbag may lead to injuries on the vehicle occupants. Common damages that result from oversized airbags include blunt force head trauma, which occurs when the overinflated airbag violently strikes the occupants.
Under-inflated and Untethered Airbags –Injuries may also occur due to untethered and under-inflated airbags. Untethered airbags cause injuries because the movement and the position of the airbag alter its effectiveness. Under-inflation of airbags mainly results from improper design or assembly of the airbag. Under-inflated airbags may lead to injuries because, in case of an accident, the airbag may not offer the necessary protection to the occupants of the vehicle.
Incorrect Positioning – Improper positioning of the airbags may also lead to injuries. Usually, an airbag inflates at a fast rate. An ideally positioned airbag should inflate upwards. If an airbag inflates forward towards the occupant of the vehicle, it may lead to severe trauma.
Who is at Risk of Injuries from Defective Airbags?
Specific categories of people are at a higher risk of suffering injuries from defective airbags. For instance, short and slight adults, as well as older people, are at a higher risk. These people face similar risks as children concerning airbag use. Short people may have to adjust the driver's seat forward to enable them to reach the steering wheel. This brings them closer to the steering wheel and the dashboard. When an airbag inflates abruptly, the individuals face a higher risk of injury.
Drivers and passengers of all ages and with varying physical characteristics are at risk of minor physical injuries. The risk exists even if the driver or the passengers follow safety precautions while using airbags. This risk is mainly because airbags often inflate at such great force. Vehicle occupants are at risk of suffering severe second-degree burns. The chemical burns occur from the gas used in inflating the airbags. The occupants may also suffer broken noses from smacking on the airbag. It is also common to suffer injuries on the hands and other bones from the impact of hitting on the airbag. The noise resulting from abrupt inflation may lead to hearing damage. If you wear glasses or if you are a pipe smoker, you may experience advanced injuries, including severe eye and facial injuries.
Individuals who do not use seat belts are at a higher risk of experiencing severe injuries in case of defective airbags. Other people at high risk include unconscious vehicle occupants and people sitting close to the dashboard. Other than suffering head injuries when the airbag deploys, people sitting close to the dashboard may suffer injuries on the neck and the chest. An airbag deployment may pose a significant risk to pregnant women. Pregnant women have been known to lose their babies due to the significant impact resulting from deploying airbags.
Unexpected severe vehicle accidents may occur due to defective airbags. For instance, if a vehicle has an oversensitive airbag, the airbag may deploy for no reason. The deployment may lead to a loud bang and block the vision of the driver. This may lead to an unavoidable accident. The oversensitivity of the airbags is common among the replacement of recycled airbags. The experts in charge of installing the replacement or the recycled airbags may not have the necessary technical expertise. Therefore, the installed airbags may end up being oversensitive. On the other hand, a defective airbag may not be sensitive and may fail to deploy even in the case of an accident. This will deprive vehicle occupants of the protection they thought they could always count on.
Irrespective of the circumstances surrounding your case, severe injuries and deaths occurring due to defective airbags are entirely avoidable. Numerous airbags recall happening due to the effort of manufacturing companies to prevent accidents resulting from faulty airbags. However, it is unfortunate that some vehicle manufacturers still install unsafe or defective airbags in new cars and trucks. By doing this, the manufacturers negligently allow millions of people to continue operating their vehicles with a presumed safety feature that may turn fatal and kill them.
Compensation for Injuries Resulting from Defective Airbags
If you or your loved one has suffered injuries due to a defective airbag, you may be able to seek compensation. You may file a lawsuit against the vehicle manufacturer or the manufacturer of the defective airbag. You may also file a claim against the previous vehicle owner if he/she had tampered with the airbags before selling the vehicle to you. Some of the injuries you may be able to recover after filing a lawsuit against the defendant include:
This refers to compensation that is easy to quantify in monetary terms. It may include compensation for medical costs you incur in seeking treatment for the injuries suffered due to defective airbags. You may experience severe chemical burns from the gas trapped within an airbag, and you may also suffer head trauma, broken nose, or broken limbs because of the impact on the inflated airbag. You may require many months of physical therapy to help restore your functionality. When seeking compensation for medical expenses, you should consider both the present medical costs and the costs you are likely to incur in the future.
Economic damages also comprise of compensation for lost wages and lost earning capacity. You may no longer be able to work the way you used to work before. You may have to spend some time away from work before you recover from the injuries. You deserve compensation for the lost income.
Non-economic damages refer to damages that are hard to quantify in monetary terms. This includes compensation for pain and suffering, and emotional distress. After suffering injuries, you may experience feelings of low self-esteem and self-pity, mainly if you lose a body function or if you suffer disfigurement. You may also experience feelings of anger, bitterness, and anxiety.
Your spouse may also seek compensation for loss of consortium. After you suffer injuries due to defective airbags, you may not be able to relate well with your partner after suffering injuries. Loss of consortium compensates your partner for the loss of companionship that he/she enjoyed before you sustained injuries.
If a person dies due to injuries suffered because of defective airbags, the person's relatives may seek compensation. Relatives who are eligible to seek compensation for wrongful death include the spouse or children of the victim.
Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
If you have suffered injuries due to defective airbags, your life may never be the same again. You may incur hefty medical costs in seeking treatment, and you may not be able to work effectively and generate income. The LA Personal Injury Law Firm can help you seek compensation. Contact us at 310-935-0089 and speak to one of our attorneys for an evaluation of your case.