The past decades have seen constant campaigns that encourage the use of seatbelts and their installation in all cars. Seatbelts protect the occupants of a vehicle in case of an accident, especially in high impact accidents.
Wearing a seatbelt can be the difference between life and death. However, some seatbelts have endangered the very lives they were designed to protect due to problems with their design, manufacture, and assembly.
Most people who sustain injuries due to seatbelt failure are unaware that the seatbelt could have been defective. At G. Dallas Horton & Associates, we investigate the case to establish the role seatbelt failure played in your injuries.
Overview of Seatbelt Failure
Seatbelt failure occurs when a seatbelt fails to perform as it was designed to during an accident. A seatbelt works by fastening you to the back of the seat during an accident. It prevents you from hitting the inside of a car or flying out of the vehicle.
When a crash occurs, the car is brought to a sudden stop. However, the people and objects inside the car still have their inertia, which forces them forward at the same speed as the car –until they find an object to stop them.
Often, if you are wearing a seatbelt, it stops this motion and keeps you from being thrown out of the vehicle or against the steering wheel or dashboard.
When a seatbelt is defective, it will not restrain you, thus increasing the risk of sustaining more severe injuries.
It is undeniable that seatbelts save lives. Statistics show that wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of death in a car crash by 45%. However, seatbelts have failed more than 3,000,000 people who are injured, and about 40,000 who die every year due to seatbelt failure.
It can be confusing to navigate through a seatbelt failure lawsuit (or even establish the need for one). If you are injured due to seatbelt failure, you are eligible for compensation from the manufacturer or designer of that seatbelt.
You can recover the worth of the financial costs related to the injuries. In addition, you can recover for the pain and suffering you experience due to a defective seatbelt.
Before filing a lawsuit, you have to establish the role the seatbelt played in injuries, including the type of defect the seatbelt had.
Types of Seatbelt Defects
Seatbelt defects are a result of design, manufacturing, assembly, and installation errors. These errors arise when manufacturers use low-quality materials in the manufacture of seat belts or fail to test them.
Some of the common defects that arise due to such mistakes include:
- Faulty Pretensioner systems. A Pretensioner of a seatbelt creates slack or reduces it depending on the situation. When you enter a car and wear a seatbelt, it will create some slack to keep you comfortable. During a car crash, the Pretensioner system should tighten the seatbelt to keep you restrained. A defective pretensioners system will leave slack on the seatbelt, causing you to sustain injuries to the face, head, and abdomen.
- Skip lock - A slip lock or a shoulder belt spool out occurs when the seatbelt fails to lock immediately during a car accident—vehicles with a lock mechanism work by locking the seatbelt when the car decelerates above a set level. If seatbelt has this defect, it will not lock or will do so long after the crash, increasing the risk of severe head and spinal injuries.
- Inertial unlatching where the buckle unlatches during the force of a crash. An effective seatbelt is supposed to remain firmly latched to complete the restraining after an accident. When it unlatches, you face the risk of being deployed out of the vehicle.
- Lap belts only - An effective seatbelt features a restraint system for the upper body and the hip area. Cars with lap-only belts offer minimal protection to the upper body, therefore, increasing the risk of severe or fatal injuries. Lap belts are also a risk in themselves and can contribute to more injuries. (The federal government in 2017 made it mandatory for cars to have three-point seatbelts to offer protection to the upper body).
- weak webbing can occur due to poor stitching, low-quality material for the belt, and overload of the seatbelt. The webbing system of the seatbelt must withstand greater forces that those exerted during a vehicle crash. Weakened webbing systems can cause the belt to tear apart or create more slack resulting in injuries.
- Door mounted seatbelts also pose a significant risk of an ejection if the door is lost or damaged during the crash.
- Poor geometry of the seatbelt, which often creates a shallow seatbelt angle, increasing the risk of head injuries during a rollover accident
- Vehicle failure - Seatbelts do not operate in isolation. They depend on other vehicle components, such as airbag pretensioners and vehicle seats, to become effective. When these systems fail, they reduce the effectiveness of a seatbelt and increase the likelihood of serious injuries.
Seatbelt defects have been the cause of recalls by automobile manufacturers to fix issues such as missing light, defective release buttons, defective tension sensors, faulty anchorage and anchor planes, and warning light failures.
Some of the consequences of a defective seatbelt include:
- Head, chest, and abdominal injuries: when the car suddenly stops due to a collision, the seatbelt is supposed to hold the drivers and passengers to keep them from being thrown forward. A defective seatbelt will malfunction, causing the occupants to hit against the interior of the vehicle. Such collisions can result in head and chest injuries. The severity of these injuries depends on the speed of the vehicle, the type of accident, and the nature of the defect. For example, if the seatbelt unlatches in a high-speed head-on collision, the injuries will be greater than those of a similar accident at low speeds will.
- Traumatic brain injuries can also develop if the impact on the head was so severe. Traumatic brain injuries can cause death and long-term consequences for survivors. While those with milder forms of TBI can recover, those with severe TBI decline progressively into a vegetative and dependent state.
- Seatbelt failure can also cause internal organ damage and bleeding. These conditions develop when the internal organs are injured, blunt force trauma. Internal organ damage and bleeding can be fatal if not detected and treated promptly.
- Whiplash: the sudden back and forth movement after an accident can cause injuries to the neck muscles
- Spinal injuries: defective seatbelts can expose your spine to injuries, which will vary in their severity. Some can be complete or incomplete. You might recover from injuries partially or entirely, and in some cases, lose function of your limbs, hands, or functions depending on the part of the spine that was injured. Lap-only seatbelts, for example, do not offer any protection to the spine, thus increasing the possibility of spinal injuries.
- Facial injuries, which occur if you hit the windshield, dashboard, or steering column when your seatbelt fails. Facial injuries can lead to permanent scarring or loss of dental features.
- You could also suffer multiple bone fractures, especially if the accident involved severe collisions with the inside of the car (for example, in a rollover accident) or if you were ejected from the car.
- Death: defective seatbelts can expose you to significant injuries that could lead to death. One can succumb to the injuries or dies immediately after the accident. The deceased's family can file for wrongful damages if they lose a loved one due to seatbelt failure.
Investigating Seatbelt Failure
Law enforcement officials are likely to attribute ejection from a vehicle to a passenger’s failure to wear a seatbelt. That assumption essentially closes the case and reduces the chances of connecting the injuries to seatbelt failure.
It might require the help of an expert to investigate the tinier details of the accident, such as marks on the seatbelt or the body of the victim, to determine if he or she was wearing the seatbelt.
Gathering evidence that a seatbelt was defective includes looking for signs such as:
- A torn or worn out seatbelt.
- The victim remains on the seat with a loosely fitting seatbelt.
- The injured victim insists on having worn a seatbelt at the time of the crash.
- The victim sustains serious injuries in a minor crash.
- The occupant on the front seat hit his or her head on the windshield.
- Differences in injuries in people who occupied the same car and were in seatbelts at the time of the accident
- The victim sustains serious injuries when there is minimal structural damage to the car.
Physical evidence is also needed to back these signs; therefore, it is advisable to maintain the vehicle in the post-crash condition to allow for an investigation. You can hire an attorney immediately after the accident so that he or she can collect the relevant evidence soon enough.
You can help with the investigation by recording the events of the accident, taking photographs, and videos of the accident and other information that could be relevant in the case.
For example, if you were driving with a friend who saw you wearing a seatbelt, he or she can be the eyewitness for your case.
Liability for Seatbelt Failure Accidents
Seatbelt defects are an example of auto defects, which could be avoided through proper design, manufacturing, assembly, and installation. When any of these processes is faulty, the whole system becomes erroneous and likely to cause injuries.
Manufacturers are often held responsible for seatbelt failure accidents. In Nevada, you can file a lawsuit against a seatbelt manufacturer on certain grounds such as:
- Breach of implied warranty: manufacturers have the responsibility to distribute products that work as they are intended. However, if they do not work as they are supposed to when used correctly, then the manufacturer can be held responsible for any damages that arise. For example, if you wear your seatbelt correctly, but it fails to protect you during a crash, you have the right to sue the manufacturer to compensate you for associated damages.
- Breach of express warranty: you can file a lawsuit on such a basis if the seatbelt fails to perform as the manufacturer promised. For example, if a manufacturer advertises that a new vehicle has a seatbelt that holds you firmly even in a rollover accident, but the seatbelt fails to, he or she has breached an express warranty.
- Design defects: the law expects manufacturers to design seatbelts that are safe and functional.
- Failure to warn: manufacturers must provide sufficient warnings for their products. For example, in seatbelts that have additional webbing, the manufacturer must warn of the point at which the seatbelt must be replaced. You have sufficient rights to sue a manufacturer who fails to provide sufficient warning.
When establishing liability in a seatbelt failure accident, you must prove that the product was responsible for the injuries. For example, the manufacturer is not responsible for your injuries (even if it turns out that the seatbelt was defective) if you failed to wear a seatbelt and were ejected from the vehicle.
You must also have incurred damages due to the defect. For example, if you were not injured in an accident, but your seatbelt was defective, you cannot sue the manufacturer. However, if a defective seatbelt caused or contributed to your injuries, you are entitled to compensation.
Failing a product liability lawsuit does not mean you have to explain the production process or identify the manufacturer's specific action. You just have to show that the seatbelt was defective and that this defect was responsible for the injuries.
Nevada holds manufacturers strictly responsible for defects that come with their products. Under the strict liability law, a manufacturer can be responsible for damages even if he or she was not negligent.
The plaintiff has to prove the following under strict liability laws:
- The seatbelt was defective.
- The seatbelt had a defect when you bought it.
- You used the seatbelt reasonably and as expected.
- The defect led to your injuries or damages.
A product liability lawsuit can also arise due to negligence in the chain of sale. In such cases, you need to show the negligence of the responsible party. When approaching the case through negligence, you need to prove that:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care.
- The defendant breached that duty.
- The breach caused your injuries.
- You suffered damages
Seatbelt failure is often a secondary cause of injuries that exacerbate or causes injuries in the second collision in a car accident. The first collision could have other causes such as:
- Drunk driving
- Poor road conditions
- Driver fatigue
- Weather conditions
- Other auto defects such as brake failure
Nevada designed the joint and several liability laws for cases where multiple defendants are responsible for your injuries.
You can sue multiple parties in a car accident involving strict liability under the Several Liability Law. The law allows the plaintiff to recover the full value of his or her damages without having to sue the other party.
For example, Nancy is driving from work when she is involved in a head-on collision with Paul's car, who is driving on the wrong lane. Her seatbelt unlatches and she is thrown out of her car on to the road where she suffers serious head injuries and breaks her hands.
Both Paul and the seatbelt manufacturer are responsible for Nancy’s injuries. However, Nancy can sue the manufacturer for 100% of the damages. If she recovers the full amount, the manufacturer can then recover the amount Paul owed from him.
Alternatively, she can sue Paul and collect the balance from the manufacturer. However, she cannot sue both Paul and the manufacturer for more than 100%.
Compensatory Damages in Seatbelt Failure Lawsuits
If you speak with a personal injury attorney, he or she can tell you whether you have a case or not. You can file a claim for the worth of these damages if you have a case against the defendant.
Compensatory damages seek to compensate you for past, present, and future costs you sustained from the injuries. You can recover damages in three classes: special, general, and punitive damages.
Special damages compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, and property damage. These damages have a dollar value attached to them, making it easier to calculate their value.
Medical bills are often the most significant burden you have to bear in the aftermath of an accident. They start piling the moment the paramedics shuttle you to the hospital. Depending on the severity of the injuries, you could accumulate these bills for months, and sometimes for the rest of your life.
To make matters worse, your injuries can make it hard to go to work or engage in the activities you previously participated in. Some injuries are so severe that they could leave you unable to work another day in your life.
Without an income and the medical bills piling, the pressure on you and your family can cause you untold distress. Fortunately, you can recover the value of these losses if you file a lawsuit against the manufacturer for the defective seatbelt.
Working with an attorney from the onset can relieve some of the pressure, as he or she can help you identify medical providers who can offer affordable or alternate payment methods to accident victims.
You can help your attorney by keeping well-maintained and organized records of the medical bills incurred and the wages you have lost from the time of the injury.
Since these damages already have an attached dollar amount, getting their value is easy. The complication in valuing your damages can arise when calculating your future medical costs and the lost earning potential.
These are future costs whose value is unknown and can be calculated with the help of an economic expert. Such experts can identify the possible factors that will affect the future value of these costs, including inflation, life expectancy, and the hope for recovery.
While you can compare notes with previous and similar cases, you need to account for the differences in your specific case.
General damages present a challenge when calculating their value. These damages compensate you for non-monetary losses that arise from car accidents. Some of the losses for which you receive general damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Physical disability
- Loss of enjoyment in life
- Emotional distress
General damages in a strict liability case are not capped; therefore, you can receive a substantial settlement for your suffering.
Courts have the discretion on whether to award punitive damages. They evaluate the action by the manufacturer to determine whether a gross violation of the law occurred.
The final value of the settlement you receive depends on several factors, such as:
- The extent and severity of your injuries
- The effects of the injuries on your life and career
- Your age and life expectancy
- The income or wages you received at the time of the accident
- The negotiation skills of your attorney
Find a Defective Seatbelt Attorney Near Me
Wearing a seatbelt gives you the confidence that you are protected to some degree should an accident occur. However, a defective seatbelt will not perform the purpose it was designed to perform, thus leading to severe injuries.
If you or a loved one are victims of seatbelt failure, you can seek compensation for your injuries from the seatbelt manufacturer. You can recover damages for medical costs, property damage, pain and suffering, and wrongful death.
The first step in recovering these damages is hiring an attorney with the experience and understanding of seatbelt failure accidents. One must have a thorough understanding of the related areas of law.
G. Dallas Horton & Associates is a Nevada-based personal injury firm with a cumulative experience spanning seven decades. We have represented clients in cases worth five to seven figures with great success.
We handle our cases with the desire to bring justice to you and your loved ones for any losses you suffer due to a defective product. Call our Las Vegas Personal Injury Attorney today at 702-820-5917 for a consultation.