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Being in a car accident is scary, no matter how many safety features your vehicle has. While technological advances continue to save lives on the roads, what happens when the equipment you have come to rely on to reduce your risk of injury fails you?
Since the 1990s, airbags have been required safety features in all passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States. This was the first major automobile safety legislation since seatbelts were made mandatory in the 1960s. Since then, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates more than 50,457 lives have been saved by frontal airbags. Unfortunately, when a car accident involves defective airbags, it can lead to unnecessarily severe injuries and even death.
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Understanding the causes of malfunctioning airbags starts with understanding a little bit about how airbags work, starting with their main parts:
Each of these seven parts plays a crucial role in slowing the amount of dangerous forward motion during impact, and properly functioning airbags do this very quickly and very effectively. However, each of these components and the role they play in keeping you and your loved ones safer is also a potential product liability lawsuit rooted in negligence.
Some common airbag defects are rooted in negligent manufacturing, and some are outright egregious:
An airbag that malfunctions can explode, fail to inflate, inflate at the wrong time, or even inflate with too much force. A damaged airbag can also inflate during a low-speed car accident, causing injuries that likely would not have happened otherwise.
Sometimes, these defects are widespread, resulting in a recall. Unfortunately, attempts to reach people who are driving potentially dangerous vehicles because of necessary recalls often go unanswered. Sometimes, this is because cars are sold or being used by family members or friends other than the registered owners. Sometimes, this is because the right person gets the memo but ignores the message, which often looks similar to often-unwanted car warranty solicitations.
Still, anyone can check whether their vehicle — or one driven by someone they love — has an outstanding recall notice. To do so, follow these three steps:
Along with defects, counterfeit airbags are a less common but no less dangerous safety concern. According to the NHTSA, counterfeit airbags have been shown to consistently malfunction, and these fake safety systems can fail in a variety of different ways.
When it comes to airbag malfunctions, there is little to compare to the devastation caused by the Takata Corporation, a multinational corporation at the heart of the modern airbag crisis. As of April 2022, the largest automotive recall in history had been underway for seven years, resulting in staggering consequences that are still ongoing:
The Takata recall is an example of corporate bad behavior that has cost billions of dollars in property and medical expenses as well as the lives of those who have been injured or killed. This massive failure, which has resulted in criminal indictments, bankruptcy filings, and countless attempts to hide from responsibility, affects automobiles made by 19 different car manufacturers over more than a decade.
A crash analysis report from a March 2018 accident indicates that ruptures of the driver’s frontal airbag inflator, made by Takata, resulted in a 16-year-old driver being injured by the metal fragments that erupted from the defective airbag when it deployed. The teen driver died from his accident injuries, and numerous pieces of metal fragments from the airbag system were later discovered by the medical examiner. Even when collisions are not fatal, injuries are not uncommon when it comes to airbags.
A report from a global medical journal looked at airbag-related injuries in the UK and the United States, and it landed on two distinct conclusions:
In their report, the doctors writing for the Emergency Medicine Journal presented their findings that there are some common injuries attributed to airbag deployment, ranging from minor to fatal:
In some cases, airbags simply may not deploy at all when they are supposed to, resulting in devastating consequences to riders. No matter where they are positioned in the vehicle, airbags’ effectiveness relies on a complex mechanical system working at just the right time, down to fractions of a second. If an airbag deploys even half a second too early or too late, it can change the outcome entirely.
Beginning in 2004, airbags evolved, relying on even more advanced algorithms to operate the airbag system. According to the Association for the Advancement of Automobile Medicine, these advanced occupant restraint systems may be called “smart airbags.” These systems are intended to be adaptable when it comes to their deployment strategies depending on a number of factors, including:
In some cases, the change in velocity is what determines whether the airbag will deploy at the right time or even at all. These systems may trigger the frontal airbags at different times, and even in stages, in an attempt to optimize safety performance. Airbag sensors that are responsive to a measure of the Delta-V, or the change in trajectory — for example, a vehicle that was going is now stopping — may malfunction, resulting in injury. When the system deploys in the wrong way for the situation, additional injuries can result. When any part of an airbag system works improperly — or simply fails to work at all — there may be grounds for a defective airbag lawsuit.
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A lawsuit is one way to prevent negligent parties from avoiding responsibility when you have suffered damages in a car accident. When it comes to recovering damages for a crash involving a defective airbag, it is especially important to consult with an airbag malfunction attorney who understands the circumstances.
In many cases, people or companies who are found responsible for negligence in a personal injury case can be held responsible financially.
Your lawyer should be able to dive into the facts of your accident as well as anticipate the ways that insurance companies and other entities might try to get out of paying fair compensation.
While 67 million vehicles are impacted by Takata airbag recalls alone, all consumers should remain aware of any recalls on their vehicles and take them seriously. Volkswagen’s immensely popular Atlas line of SUVs is merely the latest in an ongoing series of dangerous airbag manufacturer failures. In March 2022, it was announced that VW will recall nearly 223,000 Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport SUVs, stating that their front side airbags may deploy later than they’re supposed to during a crash and cause injury. Vehicles impacted by this recall may also have additional electrical issues, which can also be dangerous.
When injuries, property damage, or both, are the result of someone else’s negligence, hiring a lawyer can help. Legal representation can help families make sure that laws are being applied to the extent that is fair and just and can even help make sure that others do not have to experience what they have gone through.
People who have been injured as a result of negligent behavior, whether on the part of a corporate giant or a local dealership that neglected to properly repair an issue, you have rights to recovery under the law. Recovery in a personal injury lawsuit or product liability lawsuit can help offset the costs not covered, or perhaps not available, by other means:
Hiring an attorney is one way to ensure that each available source of personal injury compensation can be available when it is needed.
Contacting an attorney as soon as possible is the best way to become educated on your rights and options when it comes to defective airbag lawsuits. Whether your goal is to make sure that justice is served in your case or advocate for others in situations like yours, FVF is here to help you understand your options related to financial compensation and when a lawyer might be able to add value to your case, including:
Options for obtaining additional medical care
If you or someone you care about has been in a car accident, you are likely experiencing a wave of emotions and reactions. One of your reactions may be a sense of determination to keep anyone else you love — and possibly even absolute strangers — from experiencing the same devastation, stress, and harm.
After a car accident in the spring of 1952, John W. Hetrick, an industrial engineering technician, also had the desire to protect others from unnecessary harm — by the next year, he held the patent for the first automobile-specific airbag. Hetrick and others had been working on this kind of tech for several years, but after their 1948 Chrysler Windsor careened into a muddy ditch on a Sunday drive, Hetrick was motivated to complete his design, file a patent, and contact Detroit auto manufacturers to offer his invention.
Hetrick never earned any money from his invention. Auto engineers believe his version likely never would have worked, anyway, but it was a starting point for a long journey to safety devices in cars that we have come to rely on. When they work properly, airbags save lives. When they don’t, you may need to consult with an airbag malfunction attorney.
Whether you hire FVF to represent you or not, we believe that education is a source of strength. FVF case consultations are always free and without obligation because we want you to feel informed enough to make a decision about whether to proceed with your case. We will not even accept cases unless we believe we can add substantial value to the claim, and our contingency fee structure is always transparent. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.
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