Determining Liability for Airbag Malfunction
Properly functioning airbags are highly effective for reducing and preventing injuries in car accidents. Drivers should be able to trust that their vehicles are equipped with quality safety equipment that will protect occupants during an accident. When a vehicle is involved in a collision and the airbags fail to deploy, those involved will likely suffer devastating injuries.
When you are injured because your car’s airbag failed to deploy, you have a legal right to seek compensation for your losses. If so, consider speaking with a product liability lawyer. Experienced attorneys regularly help injured victims identify potentially responsible parties and seek the compensation they are entitled to. Injured victims may seek compensation for accident-related damages resulting from the defective airbag.
Purpose of Airbags
Since 1999, the federal government has required that all vehicles in the United States have airbags for the front-seat occupants. Airbags are intended to improve vehicle safety. The purpose of an airbag is to reduce the risk of occupant injury in the event of a collision.
Of course, airbags, alone will not keep occupants safe in the event of a collision. Manufacturers include combinations of safety features that are intended to work together to prevent accidents and reduce injuries should an accident occur. Airbags and seatbelts work together as a restraint system to prevent or reduce injuries in a collision. Airbags will not be as effective, and may even cause additional injuries, if the occupant does not wear a seatbelt. To ensure your vehicle’s restraint system functions properly and provides the intended protection, occupants must wear their seatbelts.
Airbags work by deploying at rapid speeds to provide a cushioning to prevent occupants from impact with the steering wheel or the dashboard. Vehicle’s airbag systems include sensors designed to detect impact during a collision. Airbag sensors are typically located at the front and on the sides of the vehicle. When these sensors activate, an electrical current is used to create an explosion to inflate the airbag. When the airbag detects impact, it promptly deploys to help absorb the occupants’ forward energy and prevent impact with objects inside the vehicle. All of this happens in only a fraction of a second.
When Airbags Fail to Deploy
No one ever anticipates that they will be involved in an accident. However, should an accident unfortunately occur, we do expect that our car’s safety features will prevent or minimize our injuries. Over the last decade, significant advancements in vehicle safety continue to reduce the annual car accident deaths in the United States. Despite increased drivers on the road, recent progress in crash avoidance technology and improvements in materials have made driving safer than ever.
Airbags are not intended to deploy in every accident. In fact, in some types of accidents, a deployed airbag could cause more harm than good. Car manufacturers must carefully and strategically place sensors to ensure the airbags will only be deployed when appropriate.
Typically, airbags will not deploy in the following situations:
- Slow speed – Accidents occurring at slow speeds, e.g., speeds used in a parking lot, the airbags are not likely to deploy. Indeed, airbags should not deploy in slow-speed collisions. Airbags are intended to protect occupants from a forceful impact that propels them forward. Even at slow speeds, accident victims may undoubtedly suffer injuries. However, it is highly unlikely that occupants will sustain the types of injuries airbags are designed to prevent.
- Small passengers – Vehicles’ airbag safety systems typically only engage when seat sensors detect the weight of an occupant in the seat. If a small child is sitting in the front seat, their weight may be insufficient for the sensor to detect that the seat is occupied. As a result, the airbag system may not be engaged and the airbag will not deploy. In this case, the failure to deploy is not a defect, rather, it is an intentional safety mechanism. Because children are smaller, they are more susceptible to injuries from the airbag deployment.
- Improper replacement – Airbags are designed to be used more than once. After an accident where an airbag is deployed, so long as the car is not totaled, the airbag can be repositioned and reused. After an airbag deploys, hire a technician to accurately reposition it to ensure proper future deployment. Improper replacement of an airbag may cause defective deployment in the next accident.
Other times, an airbag might unnecessarily or improperly deploy. For example:
- Accidental deployment – The sensors in your car which detect an accident may not accurately register all accidents. In fact, sometimes they detect an impact when no collision has occurred. For instance, the impact of your vehicle unexpectedly hitting a large pothole could trigger the airbag sensors. When the airbag sensor improperly detects a collision, the consequences can be extremely dangerous. While you are still operating your vehicle, in a few milliseconds, an airbag slams into your face. Not only can the airbag itself cause you injury, but the startling effect of the airbag’s deployment may also cause a subsequent collision.
- Overly aggressive deployment – An airbag must quickly expand with great force to prevent your body from striking the steering wheel or dashboard. Sometimes, the airbag comes out with more force than is necessary. When the force of the airbag is unnecessary for the type of accident, you may sustain an unnecessary injury.
- Delayed deployment – In other cases, airbag deployment may be delayed. When an airbag is stalled, the consequences can be dangerous. Due to the delay, your head may first impact the steering wheel and then receive a second impact from the delayed exploding airbag. In most cases, delayed deployment can cause even greater injuries than the airbag’s failure to deploy at all.
Injuries From Defective Airbags
According to theNational Highway Traffic Safety Administration, airbags can save lives and reduce fatal injuries. However, defective airbags and system malfunctions can significantly increase the severity of the injuries sustained.
Common accident injuries include:
- Broken bones, especially the nose and ribs
- Joint sprains
- Internal injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
No matter the type of injury, it may be more severe if your airbag failed to deploy or a system malfunction caused a delay in airbag deployment. Experiencing an accident can be traumatic. Even more so when you trust your vehicle’s safety features to protect you, and they ultimately betray you.
Why Airbags Fail to Deploy
Car manufacturers are required to test their vehicle’s safety features before they are released to the public. Part of this testing includes airbag deployment tests. However, controlled safety tests can not anticipate every unpredictable external factor that may contribute to an accident.
Airbags may fail to deploy for a variety of circumstances, including:
- Defective crash sensors – The airbag crash sensors detect when your vehicle is involved in an accident and then signals the airbags to deploy. The sensors are designed to detect and certain angle and force of impact before they trigger airbag deployment. If the conditions of impact should initiate deployment, but the sensors fail to trigger the airbags, you may experience additional and unnecessary injuries. A sensor may be defective as a result of poor design, incorrect installation, or improper calibration. An experienced Florida car accident attorney may help injured victims determine if their airbag system failed because of a defective sensor.
- Internal component defects – In addition to faulty sensors, other defective vehicle components may also cause the airbag’s failure to deploy. Specifically, there are electronic components that connect the signal from the sensor to the airbags themselves. When a sensor is triggered, the electrical component delivers the signal to the airbag to deploy. A faulty connection between the sensor signal and the airbag may cause your airbags to fail to deploy.
- Steering or dashboard failure – Airbags are deployed with great force from compartments located in the steering wheel or dashboard. When an airbag is released the compartment opens and breaks away. Sometimes, the compartment’s release mechanism malfunctions and the airbag fails to deploy properly, which can cause additional injuries.
Who Is Responsible
Identifying the parties who are responsible for the damages resulting from car accidents depends on several factors. In more complex cases, more than one party may be legally liable for accident-related damages. When an airbag fails to deploy, accident attorneys typically investigate three types of defects that could have caused the malfunction.
- Design defect. A design defect happens when a product was designed in such a way that it is defective. Usually, all products developed with the design defect will be defective. When a design defect is discovered, the manufacturers will likely recall the product or part. For example, 56 million Takata airbags were recently recalled after discovering a design defect that caused the airbags to explode when deployed.
- Manufacturing defect. Manufacturing defects are less extensive than design defects. Although the design is correct, the manufacturer of the airbag failed to build it according to the design requirements. As a result, the airbag fails to function properly.
- Marketing defect. When an airbag is marketed in commercials or labeled in a car, the information provided must not be misleading. For example, if an advertisement leads consumers to believe a vehicle’s airbags will deploy in any type of accident, you may have a marketing defect claim.
Personal injury cases involving product defects are complicated and complex. An experienced product liability lawyer regularly fights for the rights of injured victims to recover the compensation they deserve. An attorney’s extensive knowledge and experience handling airbag defect cases can assist injured parties in strengthening their product liability claims.
Be Wary of Settlement Offers
Accepting a settlement offers is a quick way to put a tragic situation behind you. However, accepting an insurance companies settlement offer may not always be in your best interest.
Even if the exact cause of the airbag malfunction is unknown, insurance companies of the at-fault party may contact you soon after the accident. Insurance companies are aware that you experienced a traumatic accident and that you are eager to pay your medical bills.
Insurance representatives may try to take advantage of your situation and offer you a quick settlement. However, the settlement amount will likely be insufficient to cover the full extent of your medical expenses.
When you accept a settlement, you waive your right to claim any further compensation from the insurance company. Should you accept before evaluating the costs of your future medical needs, you may end up paying out-of-pocket for injuries caused by another.
We have seen this unfortunate situation before and strive to help our clients avoid it. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be entitled to seek compensation for:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Lost wages
- Loss of companionship
- Past, present, and future medical bills
Medical expenses can quickly become significant. When you are injured by another, you should not bear the financial burden of the medical costs associated with your recovery. When an insurance company offers you a lowball settlement, they are hoping you will not take the time to accurately predict your future costs.
Our experience has helped many people anticipate their future needs and costs, so they can seek the compensation they deserve. When appropriate, a product liability lawyer may work with financial experts to accurately estimate a victim’s future medical needs. Future surgeries, extensive rehabilitation, in-home medical care, and prescription medications can cost thousands of dollars—or more. Your lawyer need to account for the full extent of the costs you can expect to incur to maximize your recovery.
Work With a Trusted Lawyer
If you have been injured in a car accident, speak with a skilled product liability lawyer as soon as you are able. You deserve a product liability lawyer with knowledge and experience.
An experienced lawyer can offer guidance through complex legal procedures and advise victims of their options while keeping their best interests in mind. To contact Dolman Law Group about a free consultation on your claim, either call our Clearwater office at (727) 451-6900 or fill out a contact form online.