Review of Seat Belt Failure, Injuries, and Financial Compensation
Seat belts are one of the most crucial safety features on a motor vehicle.
Even though collision avoidance systems and multiple airbag placements are now fairly common, vehicle occupants depend on seat belts to function properly in case of a car accident.
Despite the valuable role seat belts have in keeping vehicle occupants safe in a car collision, they sometimes create a false sense of security in situations where they malfunction because of a defect.
A seat belt that functions properly can greatly reduce the risk of serious permanent injuries and fatalities during a car crash.
However, a seat belt that fails to work as designed could result in traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord damage.
You're in a car accident, and your seat belt didn't protect you. Chances are, you're feeling frustrated, angry, and maybe even a little helpless because this vital safety mechanism didn't work as it should.
To help you take back control of the situation, here's a breakdown of the law by our Los Angeles personal injury lawyers regarding seat belt failure in California.
We will also review when you may be entitled to compensation for injuries sustained due to faulty seat belts.
What Is Seat Belt Failure?
If you are wearing a seat belt during an impact or collision during a car accident, it's much less likely you will be ejected from the vehicle at impact.
Drivers and occupants of the car are less likely to strike parts of the vehicle's interior or other passengers should a sudden stop be required.
Most people are thrown from a vehicle upon impact if they are not wearing a seat belt to hold them inside, and people who are ejected from a vehicle in a car crash won't normally survive.
Seat belts are designed to anchor you in place if there's a collision that impacts your vehicle. If the seat belt fails to fulfill this purpose, and you're injured as a result, then it could be categorized as a seat belt failure.
How Can a Seat Belt Fail?
Many design flaws can cause seat belts to malfunction. However, here are the most common reasons for seat belt failures.
- Latch failure: your latch is where the buckle and belt meet. If the latch fails, it could release during a collision which means you may be thrown from your seat;
- Webbing defects: if a seat belt rips or tears, it could be due to defective webbing since seat belts should be designed to withstand heavy forces without tearing;
- Anchor instability: if the anchor isn't firmly fixed to your seat, it may not secure you in place if there's a collision or impact;
- Retractor failure: the retractor should lock and keep you in place if there's an accident, so if this mechanism fails, you could sustain serious injury;
- Spooling: if too much of the seat belt feeds out, the belt becomes loose, which means it won't properly restrain you if there's an accident;
- Defective buckles: some vehicles were identified as having defective buckles that don't fasten properly, meaning the occupants are not properly restrained. This type of serious defect can increase the chances of occupants being elected from the car during a crash.
These are only some reasons how some seat belts can be defective. Other circumstances could also cause defects resulting in serious injury or death.
Many vehicles have been recalled due to the fact their seat belts were found to have faults in their design or manufacturing.
Automakers such as General Motors, Ford, Honda, Toyota, and others have issued specific recalls on some of their models to modify the seat belts to make them safe.
In a situation where seat belt defects cause injuries or fatalities in a car accident, experts can investigate to determine whether the seat belt was a contributing factor causing your injuries.
Automakers have the responsibility to design and produce seat belts that can work properly in a vehicular accident. They are safety devices that are intended to be crash-worthy.
What Injuries Can You Sustain from Seat Belt Failure?
Any seat belt failure can cause injuries ranging from minor to life-changing. The most common types of injuries you may sustain include:
- Soft tissue damage,
- Whiplash and neck injuries,
- Spinal injuries, e.g., fractures or ruptured discs,
- Internal bleeding caused by damage to blood vessels,
- brain injury,
- Abdominal trauma,
- Internal organ damage, e.g., ruptured spleen.
Detecting seat belt failures requires a careful assessment based on the facts of the case. However, possible signs of seat belt failure include:
- Visible damage to the belt, e.g., rips or tears,
- Improper or unstable latch mechanism,
- Belted passengers thrown from their seats,
- Loose-fitting seat belt identified at the time of the accident,
Based on the circumstances of your case and the injuries sustained, your attorney may ask an expert to inspect the vehicle and determine if a seat belt failed.
Who Is Responsible for Seat Belt Failure?
Vehicle manufacturers and companies that design and sell seat belts could be held responsible for an injury caused due to a seat belt failure.
Those who design seat belts attempt to produce the best protective system possible in case of a car accident, but they are not always successful.
They are also responsible to ensure that the seat belts will keep drivers and passengers safe in case of a collision.
The auto manufacturers perform the tests for seat belt safety but are often late in the use of new technology.
A vehicle manufacturer should ensure that seat belts are fit for their purpose. If a seat belt fails, it's often due to a manufacturing or design defect.
In such cases, the car manufacturer may be responsible for damage caused by a seat belt failure.
Can I Claim Damages if My Seat Belt Fails?
Damages compensate you for losses sustained due to another party's wrongdoing or negligence. To claim damages for a seat belt failure, we must prove that:
- You sustained an injury in a car accident,
- A defective seat belt caused the injury sustained,
You may be able to claim compensatory damages, which we can divide into two categories.
- Economic: compensation for financial losses, including lost wages and medical bills.
- Non-economic: damages for distress, pain, and suffering caused by the accident.
While economic damages are fairly simple to quantify, it's much trickier to estimate non-economic damages.
In exceptional cases, you might also be able to claim punitive damages, which are awarded to “punish” the at-fault party for wrongdoing.
The courts can sometimes award punitive damages to warn companies against releasing defective products or neglecting to perform adequate safety testing.
Unfortunately, seat belt failures are not always easy to prove.
For example, the defense might claim that you weren't wearing your seat belt at the time of the accident. Or, they might argue that you didn't wear your seat belt properly, so you're at least partially to blame for the injuries sustained.
An attorney can advise you on the merits of your case based on the facts we can establish.
Can I Claim Damages if I Caused the Car Accident?
If you are involved in a car accident in California, and your seat belt fails or does not properly function, resulting in injuries or wrongful death, you have the legal right to recover damages.
We may be able to help you claim financial compensation for any injuries through a seat belt defect lawsuit against manufacturers for either punitive or compensatory damages.
Compensatory damages include reimbursement of any medical expenses, pain and suffering, and another cost you had to pay as a result of the seat belt failure.
These types of lawsuits also discourage manufacturers from putting unsafe or defective products on the market.
If you were at fault for the car collision but suffered injuries due to a seat belt malfunction, you might still be eligible for compensation.
We need to first review all the details to determine your legal options.
Injury Justice Law Firm is located in Los Angeles County and offers a free case evaluation by calling (818) 781-1570 or filling out our contact form.