Airbags are safety devices in cars that are meant to deploy during a crash to protect a vehicle’s occupants. They are located in the steering wheel for the driver and in the dashboard for the front-seat passenger, while additional airbags may be located in the doors for side-impact accidents. When it detects a severe crash, a crash sensor will trigger the igniter in the airbag to fill the airbag with a gas and then rapidly deploy. While airbags save lives and reduce the severity of some injuries, they also may cause certain types of injuries, even if they deploy appropriately. For example, the dust and chemicals in the airbag can irritate eyes and skin.
Problems with Airbag Deployment
According to the NHTSA, properly working airbags inflate in less than 0.05 seconds.
Malfunctions involving an airbag usually result from the crash sensor’s failure to activate as needed. It may fail to deploy the airbags during a crash or deploy them when there is no crash. A sensor also might deploy an airbag too late or fail to trigger all of the appropriate airbags in the vehicle. Deploying slightly too late may seem like a minor issue, but the speed at which accidents happen makes every second critical. For example, a collision might thrust a victim’s head forward from the force of the impact. If an airbag deploys after their head already has been thrust forward, it could strike the victim’s head and cause serious brain injuries.
Injuries Caused by Functioning Airbags
Drivers and front-seat passengers should take care to sit a certain distance from the airbags in case they suddenly deploy. However, sometimes airbags can cause harm even when they deploy properly. Most commonly, they can result in eye injuries and burns or abrasions. Respiratory issues also can arise from the chemicals that an airbag releases, especially for people who have sensitive lungs or certain health conditions.
Suing for Airbag Injuries
If you believe that an airbag failed to deploy properly and thereby caused your injuries, you should make sure to preserve the airbag, the crash sensor, and other related components of your car. You should try to keep your vehicle even if the insurer declares it to be a total loss and tries to take possession of it. Having evidence from your car’s computer can be critical in establishing fault for airbag injuries.
Most airbag injuries will lead to a products liability claim, which is different from a standard car accident case. These claims usually involve showing that the airbag suffered from a manufacturing defect or a design defect. A manufacturing defect is a problem with your specific airbag or sensor, which must have been made differently from its intended design. By contrast, a design defect is a problem with the way that the manufacturer designed the airbag or sensor. It must have been unreasonably dangerous because its maker failed to take into account certain safety risks that it should have addressed. You may need expert witnesses and technical evidence to prove liability, so you probably should retain an attorney to bring your case. Defendants may include the manufacturer of your car as well as the manufacturer of the airbag and any entities that were responsible for maintaining, repairing, or replacing the airbag.
Defense Strategy: Plaintiff’s Negligence
Defendants may argue that a plaintiff’s own negligence caused their airbag injuries. The NHTSA recommends that drivers and passengers
Sit far back from the steering wheel or dashboard
Use seat belts
Do not place rear-facing car seats in front of an active airbag
Seat children under 13 in the back
Replace airbags at an authorized repair center immediately after a crash