By: Carey Law
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“My airbag didn’t inflate in my car accident. Can I Sue?”
In 1998, Federal Motor Safety Standard 208 was amended to require dual front airbags in all passenger cars and light trucks. Since this time airbags have saved thousands of lives and protected many Americans from sustaining several head or bodily injuries as a result of impact. Despite the effectiveness of airbags, occasionally a car accident can occur where the airbag does not deploy. If you or someone you know has been injured or killed in an accident where the airbag did not deploy, you may be entitled to recover damages for the injuries you and/or your passengers sustained when an airbag didn’t function as designed.
Although most Americans own a car with airbags, few people understand how and when an airbag is deployed. For example, when there is a moderate to severe crash, a signal is sent from the air bag system’s electronic control unit to the inflator within the air bag module. An igniter in the inflator starts a chemical reaction that produces a harmless gas, which inflates the air bag within the blink of an eye – or less than 1/20th of a second. The rapid speed of airbag deployment creates an air pillow to protect your body from impact as much as possible. When the airbag does not deploy you have a heightened risk of head impact with the windshield or dashboard.
When an airbag fails to deploy and inflate during a moderate to severe crash, injuries to the driver and front-seat passenger can be far more severe, even deadly. A lawsuit against the manufacturer of the air bag, the car and others may be possible. When a car company manufactures the air bag module they are liable if the airbag later fails to function correctly upon impact. Claims can be made based on strict liability law, negligence and contract law. At Carey Law, we have experience in handling these types of cases and look forward to helping you achieve justice in your claim.
If you have been in an accident where the airbag should have deployed consider the following questions as they may be relevant to your case:
- Was there a defect from the manufacturer that may have caused the airbag to not deploy?
- Did the defect within the vehicle cause your injuries?
- Was the accident at a high enough rate of speed to justify airbag deployment?
A 2007 study showed that for drivers taller than 6 foot 3 inches, air bags were associated with a 5 percent greater risk of serious injury and for drivers shorter than 4 foot 11 inches, air bags were associated with a 4 percent increase in the risk of serious injury. Even when airbags work properly they still can cause injuries to passengers.
In 2004 more than 1.4 million recalls were related to airbag safety problems, up from about 350,000 recalls the previous year. Many of these airbag recalls were due to wiring problems that could result in the air bags being deployed for no reason. Airbags are increasingly the subject matter of litigation in courts across the United States.
Honda issued a recall in 2008 because its airbags opened with so much force that metal parts of the airbag assembly could blast through the airbag, injuring a passenger in contact with the airbag. In May 2011 the Honda airbag recall expanded to 833,000 vehicles that may have been equipped with a faulty airbag. Meanwhile Hyundai issued a recall for 2007-2009 Elantra sedans for an airbag system sensor that could cause the airbags to open incorrectly, increasing the risk of injury to smaller passengers (i.e., women, children and the elderly) in the event of an accident.
Did 800 People Really Die From Defective Airbags?
This past week, the Center for Auto Safety made a determination that General Motors, once the top producing, most revered auto maker in the world, has sold hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, and SUVs that may contain an “ignition switch defect.” General Motors has adamantly denied the accusation calling the alleged defects to be meritless. The question now looms why so many recalls are being issued voluntarily by General Motors to remedy the finding. Is this determination just pure speculation? Or did it really cause terminal harm to numerous motorists?
What’s Airbag Non-deployment?
It seems simple – you are in an accident and the airbags “pop out.” To the average driver, airbags are a feature they expect in an automobile but know very little about. After all, companies like Volvo have branded themselves with five-star crash test ratings and complete 360-degree airbag protections. Though it may seem to be a “must have” feature, its use can often cause more harm than good.
Consider the findings of The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that 10,000 lives were saved because of airbag deployment since 1990. The study immediately found scrutiny in a University of Georgia study (“More Harm than Good”) that recorded 238 deaths proximately caused by airbag deployment. The thought that a safety feature could actually worsen your injuries or even cause death is frightening but because the statistics lean heavily towards the use of airbags – the greatest good for the greatest number wins the day.
The question then becomes –what if a person is in an accident and the airbags do not deploy, when they should have? Essentially, this question requires extensive expert analysis. First, you have to in list top mechanical engineers to research the black box data and make sense of the computers last thoughts before impact. The black box is a mental recording of the computer systems decision process of deciding whether to deploy the airbag, prior to impact. It is unknown exactly how the computer system is designed and what mathematical formulas it applies to the enumerable data signals it analyses. Nevertheless, we do have a basic understanding of what happens when the airbag does not deploy.
First, most consumers wrongfully assume that when you are in an accident the airbag must deploy. This is a consumer fallacy, probably borne through the evils of product marketing that attaches an over simplified definition to a complex mechanical product, for the sake of mass appeal and an emotional trigger. Instead, each year thousands of auto accidents happen where the airbag does not deploy. As discussed above, the reason the airbag sometimes does not deploy is to protect the occupant of the vehicle.
Bottom line – any auto accident traveling at a rate of speed in excess of 25 mph and incurs a direct-frontal impact, the airbag will deploy. If the accident is a side-impact or a very slow moving impact, the airbag runs a greater probability of deciding not to deploy. Your safety protection, afforded by airbag technology, is literally left to the decision of a computer most people have no intricate understanding!
What is an Ignition Switch Defect?
An ignition switch is often referred to as a “starter” or the place where you insert a key. Most people believe this ignition switch solely activates the engine when turned. This is a wrong assumption. By activating the ignition switch, the car will engage all major electrical systems to permit the vehicle to operate. Notice that all automobiles are able to semi-turn before the car is actually “cranked.” The semi-turning of the key activates the battery and many components that require electricity, instead of gasoline. During this pivotal semi-turn, the car is preparing itself to become operable. Part of the operation of an automobile is the airbag system or systems, depending on design. This ignition switch system is of the utmost importance and that is why it requires a key to “unlock.” Even keyless start or remote start equipped vehicles have to engage the electrical systems before the automobile can be utilized.
When the ignition switch if fully activated, the switch will ignite a fuel and air mixture, launching it into the engine. This process is a timeless design for all cars since the days of Henry Ford. The extensive history of the design of the system lends itself to little excuse on the part of manufacturer error in design, installation or intended use. Moral of the story? When the ignition switch does not work properly, components such as airbags may not engage. So in the event of impact they are useless.
Does it matter if you would’ve had the accident anyway?
While it is true that an auto accident is most likely going to cause injuries to the occupants of the car’s cabin, it is equally true that the airbag if properly configured can protect or eliminate many injuries commonly associated with impact. Have you ever seen crash test dummies? Those odd looking dummies serve an excellent purpose. As the vehicle is tested, the dummies bounce around in the cabin to alert engineers to the exact area ligaments tend to hit upon impact.
So the test for airbag lawsuits or safety configuration is not to simple expect the airbag to prevent injuries altogether but whether the airbags did what they were intended to do for the type accident that has occurred. Accordingly, when an accident happens it is important to consult with an experienced airbag nondeployment attorney to properly evaluate your claim. Every case is fact sensitive because of the nature of the crash. For example, a car that becomes airborne will most likely deaden the computer’s ability to deploy airbags. Thus, it may or may not break your case, depending on the intended design of the airbag system. The complexity of these cases is somewhat daunting.
What do experts say about the GM recall?
Carey Law Firm works with various safety experts for cases involving manufacturer’s defects, including cases where companies like General Motors is alleged to have caused the death of persons in numerous accidents. It seems the consensus among experts is to continuously work to carefully evaluate each case based on the accident data. The short answer: you cannot apply any wrongdoing to any automobile manufacturer, until a proper workup is completed to determine whether a defect existed.
What are your rights if you are hurt in an accident?
If you or someone you love has been injured or killed because of an auto accident, please call the Carey Law Firm today for a Free Evaluation of your potential claim, or submit your Free Case Evaluation request online. Remember, to allege an airbag defect you will need to also show that if the airbag deployed it would have made a distinguishable difference. For example, if the driver’s airbag had deployed the driver’s head would not have directly impacted the steering wheel at full speed. Therefore, significant brain damage would have been unlikely or less probable.
What types of documents do I need to win my case?
A full work up for a non deployment of airbags cases requires several key pieces of evidence to protect the client from being mauled by opposing counsel. First, you need a complete copy of all accident reports created by the EMS, the wrecker service, and any responding police officer. These can be obtained via the DMV or by a FOIA request to the appropriate state entity. Additionally, you need copies of all service records related to the vehicle. You want to see what was done to the vehicle since its inception and to determine whether an auto manufacturer is a potential defendant in the lawsuit.