According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) buckling up reduces the chances of sustaining severe injuries and death by 50% and 45%, respectively.
The effectiveness of seatbelts depends on their proper design, production, and installation.
Manufacturers can be liable for any injuries you sustain from a seatbelt failure accident. The law requires them to design, manufacture, and distribute auto parts that meet the industry standards for safety. You can, therefore, file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer if you suffer damages from a seatbelt failure accident.
Product liability lawsuits complex cases that involve establishing liability and filing a lawsuit against the at-fault party. We invite you to contact the Clay County Personal Injury Attorney to help you seek compensation if you are injured in a car accident.
Overview of Seatbelt Defects
It is automatic to sit in the car and wear a seatbelt. With that simple action, you instinctively expect to be safe, should an accident occur. However, some seatbelts have several defaults that make them useless and, sometimes, a hazard.
Seat belts are designed to prevent injuries from a car accident by preventing the second collision.
Most vehicle accidents feature two-in-one collisions; the first collision occurs between the vehicle and another vehicle or an object.
The second collision occurs inside the car, whereby the first collision's impact causes the occupants to collide with each other or with the interior of the car.
Seat belts prevent the second collision by holding the occupant firmly on the car seat. Most seat belts utilize a three-point protection system, which includes a shoulder strap and a lap belt.
A seat belt might also include a retractor system and a locking mechanism to hold the occupant in their seat should an accident occur.
The retracting system pulls the slack in a seat belt during a collision, thus fastening you to the seat. If the mechanism is too loose, the seatbelt will not protect you, and if it is too tight, it could cause injuries.
The webbing of the seat belt also plays a role in the sturdiness of the belt. A belt with proper webbing will not tear under pressure.
However, when a seat belt is defective, it does not work as it should, thus exposing the occupants of a vehicle to serious injury or death.
The common seat belt defects include:
- Pretensioner defects cause the seat belt to become too loose or too tight that it causes severe injuries or death
- Defective buckles
- Webbing failure which causes the seat belt to break
- Faulty anchors which cause anchor failure
- Failure of the seat belt retractor to lock
- False latching (where the seat belt appears to be latched but is not)
- Inertial unlatching due to the impact of the accident
- Seatbelts mounted on the door can pose the risk of an ejection if the door opens during the accident.
- Defects in the airbag ECU
Seat belt failure, especially in rear-end accidents, can occur due to the force of the impact and depending on the strength of the seatback.
Passive restraint systems pose an additional risk since the shoulder harness slides down automatically. The passive restraint system makes it easier for the occupant to forget the lap seat belt, thus exposing him or herself to severe injuries such as decapitation and strangulation.
Faulty design and manufacturing defects are the leading causes of seat belt defects.
For example, a lap-only or shoulder only seat belt provides partial protection, and in some cases, becomes a safety hazard. A shoulder only seatbelt can, for instance, cause strangulation during the second collision.
They affect the reliability of a seatbelt in preventing or minimizing injury in an accident. Instead, they become an aggravating factor which could cause serious injury or death. Other causes of seat belt failure include:
- Insufficient directions
- Missing warning labels
Some of the common injuries you might suffer due to a defective seat belt include:
- Injuries to the spine
- Dislocated or broken bones
- Severe lacerations.
- Organ damage (internal or external)
- Brain injuries
- Whiplash injuries
These injuries can have long-term physical, emotional, financial, and career consequences. You might recover compensation for these negative changes and costs associated with the accident by filing a claim against the liable party.
How Seat Belts Prevent Injuries
Recent days, decades indeed, have seen a growing awareness of the importance of seatbelts in preventing or reducing the severity of injuries after a crash.
As a result, more people have embraced seat belts as a protective measure while on the road.
Seat Belts are designed with safety mechanisms in place to reduce injuries if a crash occurs.
In the event of an accident, two components cushion you from sustaining fatal injuries; seatbelts, and the airbag. Both systems serve as the primary restraint systems in the event of a crash. However, they serve different purposes in the vehicle.
Airbags, for instance, deploy once there is a crash, cushioning the chest and head areas from the impact, seatbelts, on the other hand, work by securing you on the auto seat so that you won’t project out of it when a collision occurs.
The Florida government recommends a three-point belt - two attached beneath the seat and one near the roof of the vehicle for all front seats. These seatbelts are also the standard for vans and light-duty trucks.
Seat belts can protect you from severe injuries such as:
Localized Body Injuries
Localized injuries affect one area of your body. For example, you could sustain injuries on the head if you are ejected from the vehicle during the accident.
Effective seatbelts spread the shock during a car accident, which prevents localization of the injuries, hence reducing its severity.
Most accidents result from a lack of safety belts. Secondary injuries result when you are thrown around as a result of the impact. If your body is unrestrained, you are likely to be thrown around, resulting in concussions. You can as well be ejected through the windscreen. Other secondary injuries may include whiplash.
Serious Head Injuries
Buckling up helps prevent you from incurring severe bodily injuries. While you can never predict when an accident will occur, any impact, large or small, might lead to injuries to your head and, in extension, your brain. If you are properly strapped, the seatbelt will restrain you from jerking up or forward and ultimately collide with the interior of the vehicle. It also prevents you from the impact with the airbag or the steering wheel. That means, at least, it will reduce damage to the brain or a case of concussion.
Restrains You From Getting Ejected From the Vehicle
Failure to buckle up might lead to ejection from the seat of your vehicle. The sad reality is most of the accidents we hear results from ejections. The truth is, it is almost impossible to survive an ejection. The secondary injuries that result from the ejection are too severe and might lead to head trauma, deep cuts, and death.
Deceleration simply means a sudden change in speed. It is common to decelerate if you are particularly moving at high speeds, and an event of impacts brings your vehicle to an immediate stop.
Deceleration is one of the leading causes of accident-related injuries. It forces your body to stop suddenly, often sending the shock through your body, resulting in serious injuries to the neck, head, and spinal column.
Wearing an effective seat belt increases the stopping distance and reduces the impact of the accident on the occupants.
Seat belts that stretch are more effective as they prevent an uncontrolled forward movement and ease you gently (or with lesser force) onto the seatback.
Wearing your seat belt properly is as important as the belt itself. For instance, you risk your life if you wear a shoulder belt and ignore the lap strap.
That is why you need to understand how to position your seatbelts for maximum comfort and efficiency:
- You need to lay your seatbelt across the hip and not your stomach
- You need to fit your seatbelt in such a way that it won’t feel constraining
- Never keep the shoulder strap under your arm or behind you
- Lastly, make sure you have positioned the straps away from your neck and across your shoulders and chest
Liability for Seatbelt Failure Accidents
When you are involved in an accident, the first instinct will be to blame yourself. If you were careful, you might find fault in the other driver or the outside conditions such as the weather or road conditions. In a few cases, you might connect your injuries to seat belt failure.
Establishing liability for car accidents is usually a complicated process for most accidents. It might require experts such as forensic detectives and accident re-constructors.
Liability for seatbelt failure follows one of two principles: negligence or strict liability. Negligence applies where a person failed to perform his or her responsibilities as required, and the negligent actions result in damages to a third party.
Many parties would be at fault for defective seat belts, including the seat belt designer, manufacturers, or assembling agency. In some cases, you could sue the car owner if you were a passenger in the vehicle. A lawsuit against the car owner would arise if he or she failed to replace or maintain the seatbelts that were in bad condition or had been used in a previous crash.
Car manufacturers have the responsibility of manufacturing products that meet the minimum industry standards for safety. Therefore, they must test their products before releasing them into the market. The products must also work as they were intended.
The law also requires manufacturers to warn of known defects that could arise with the use of their products and ways to avoid these defects.
Such safety regulations have led to the recall of various seatbelts or their components to upgrade their safety or improve their effectiveness in serving the intended purpose.
Before you can file a product liability lawsuit for a defective seatbelt, you must meet several elements as required by Florida laws.
These elements include:
- You suffered injury or loss due to the use of the seat belt.
- The product has a design or manufacturing defect that the manufacturer knew of or should have reasonably known, yet he or she failed to warn the consumer.
- The defect in the seatbelt contributed to the injury (this means that you have a claim against the manufacturer if the failure of the seatbelt led to your head injury, even if the cause of the accident was a drunk driver)
- You were using the seatbelt reasonably or as expected.
- The defect was present in the seatbelt at the time the supplier or seller sold the product.
If you are pursuing a claim based on negligence, you will also have to prove that the manufacturer:
- Owed you a duty of care
- Breached the duty of care towards you
- You suffered injury or damages due to the breach (or the breach was the proximate cause of the injury)
- The product had a defect
Unlike in claims based on negligence, if you file a strict liability lawsuit, you do not have to prove that certain actions by the manufacturer led to your injuries.
Strict liability laws in Florida hold manufacturers responsible for the safety of their products, based on their positions as manufacturers. The laws hold that a manufacturer must ensure that the product is safe for ordinary and foreseeable use.
For example, it is expected that a safety belt should protect you from being ejected or knocked around inside the car. Therefore, a malfunction of the seat belt would be a product defect, under which the manufacturer will be responsible for your damages.
The manufacturer will, however, have the opportunity to defend himself or herself. Some of the defenses he or she might assert include:
- You were not wearing a seatbelt
- You misused the seatbelt
- You failed to replace the seatbelt after a previous crash
Seatbelt failure could be the main cause of your injuries, or it could have worsened an injury. Establishing the extent of these damages requires an experienced attorney who also has the resources to hire the right team to evaluate even the minute details of the crash that will help your case.
Compensatory Damages Available
The value of a case concerns every person who considers filing a personal injury lawsuit after an auto accident. Each case differs in the complexity, details, and responsible parties. The injuries and costs associated with the accident also vary based on your circumstances.
However, all these cases have in common the types of damages you can recover. Some of these damages are:
- Medical costs for both past, present, and future bills related to the accident. Medical costs are often the first and most significant damages you suffer after an accident. You can recover the costs for treatment, medication, therapy, and rehabilitation.
- Household expenses that result from your inability to handle your pre-accident activities such as mowing the lawn.
- Lost earning to compensate you for the wages, salary, or bonuses you lost while recovering from your injury.
- Lost earning capacity to compensate you for earning potential you lose due to the accident. For example, if a defective seat belt leads to the strangulation and death of your loved one, the court might award you damages for what he or she could have earned if the accident did not occur.
- Loss of services and support due to the injury or death of a loved one, for example, if your spouse handled the home front while you ran the business end, you might have to hire help or handle the tasks your spouse previously handled. Such changes can take time to adjust to, not to mention the disruption they can cause.
- Pain and suffering damages are also available to cover the physical, mental, and emotional anguish you endure due to the injuries or the loss of a loved one.
In some rare cases, courts award punitive damage, especially where the respondent’s actions were grossly negligent. For example, if a manufacturer, to cut corners, produces a seat belt with a poor webbing system, could be charged with punitive damages to serve as an example and deter similar action.
Can You Make a Claim If You Weren’t Wearing a Seat Belt?
You can always have a lawsuit of injury-related claim after the injury. But different states treat such incidences differently. As a result, the impact of the claim depends on the provisions of the law in the state in which you file the claim.
Seatbelt failure is often a secondary cause of injuries in an accident; outside factors such as distracted driving or poor road conditions create the first collision.
The second collision happens only if the car's crash management systems, such as an airbag or a seatbelt malfunction.
Since the seat belt protects you from severe injuries from the crash, you could still sue the at-fault driver to recover any associated damages.
If you were not wearing a seatbelt and filing a claim, the respondent could argue that your failure to wear seat belts led to injuries or enhanced injuries. However, the respondent must provide sufficient scientific or medical evidence to support their defenses.
If you don’t buckle up and get involved in an accident, there will be increased chances of getting injured. The other downside to it is that you will be deemed to have contributed to the injuries under Clay County’s “doctrine of comparative negligence.” That means if you contribute to the accident, you will be reducing the amount you would otherwise recover if you had the seat belts strapped on.
For example, if you are responsible for 40% of your injuries by law, the maximum amount you can recover is 80% of the damages. That way, you will be held responsible for your negligence. If you get involved in an accident, say a collision, and there is sufficient evidence you were not wearing a seat belt, the insurance company or the respondent will claim that some of the injuries you went through were partially your fault. That way, the respondent will lessen his/her responsibility in the accident.
Paul was injured when a vehicle he was driving collided with a sports car driven by Jenni. Paul filed a claim with Auto Insurers, Jenni's automobile insurance company. Auto Insurers claimed that since Paul didn’t have his seatbelt strapped on, he was “comparatively negligent.” Consequently, it led to more injuries than what he would have incurred if he had the seat belt on.
According to Florida State law: F.S. 316.614(4) (b): “It is illegal for any driver to operate an automobile unless they have their seatbelts on.” Any driver found in violation of this statute is said to be negligent. However, violation of this statute isn’t by itself conclusive evidence that you are negligent. The fact that Paul didn’t have his seatbelt on is evidence of negligence for his side. However, the jury doesn’t have to use this part alone to conclude that Paul acted in negligence.
The bulk of the job is in the hands of the liability adjuster. If he/she finds that you have violated the statute, he/she will consider that together with other facts on deciding whether Paul was negligent. If he/she finds Paul negligence contributed to the injury, then he/she will reduce the full value of his claim. Otherwise, Paul will receive the full value of his claim.
Find an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Have you or your loved one been involved in a severe accident and are not sure how to tackle the issue? You should look for first-class legal representation, client-focused stress relief, and personalized attention as you fight for your compensation. At the Clay County Personal Injury Attorney, we are a dedicated legal team that strongly advocates for injured individuals, victims of negligence, and their loved ones. If you are not sure how to get started, contact us today at 904-494-8242 for a no-obligation, free consultation with our attorneys.