We all assume that our seatbelts will protect us during a motor vehicle accident. Just the same, it is reasonable to expect that when in an accident, the airbag will deploy and prevent serious injuries. But this does not always happen.
Sometimes the airbag will fail to deploy when it should, or it may deploy when not necessary. In either case, the car and/or airbag manufacturer may be held liable for your injuries. Below is more information about common reasons for airbag deployment failures, and more information about taking legal action for injuries sustained due to a possible airbag deployment failure.
When An Airbag Should Deploy
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that the frontal airbags in vehicles should deploy in a moderate to severe frontal or near frontal crash. According to the regulations, this type of accident is defined as the equal of striking a fixed and solid barrier at 8-14 MPH or more, or hitting a parked car of the same size at 16-28 MPH or higher.
Airbags are not designed to deploy in all accidents. This is because an airbag can deploy at a speed as high as 200 MPH. The force that occurs in the deployment of a frontal airbag can cause serious personal injuries that are worse than the potential injuries in some minor accidents. Airbags are designed to not deploy in the following situations:
- A minor impact on the front of the vehicle
- Rear impact, side impact or a rollover accident that lacks major deceleration from the front to rear
- Accidents that involve striking a deer, dog or other small animal
- An accident involving hitting a curb, sign or a parking block
- Driving on a road with bumps and potholes
Why An Airbag May Not Deploy
Below are the most common reasons for airbags not deploying in an accident. Whether or not you can sue successfully for your injuries depends upon the exact circumstances of the case:
- The accident itself. As we note above, the type of crash can dictate whether the airbag will deploy or not. Generally, the location of the crash impact is more likely to determine if the airbag will deploy, rather than the speed.
- Defective airbag sensors. If the impact should have caused the airbag to deploy but it did not, the sensors may have failed. This could be because the airbag or sensor manufacturer did not properly manufacture or design the device. There also may not be enough sensors to detect the crash. This can happen when the manufacturer is trying to save money.
- Defective electrical parts. The failure could be due to defective electrical parts or wiring that is made to communicate the impact to the airbag. If these parts are designed poorly or installed improperly, an airbag failure can occur. This type of failure may be indicated when one airbag deploys but another does not.
- Severed wiring. Research has determined that some airbag failures can happen when the manufacturer routes wires through areas that can be severed during an accident. This may have done as a matter of convenience or cost savings.
- Airbag module defect. Airbag module defects can lead to an airbag to not fire when it is supposed to. There have been lawsuits where the sensors correctly identified that a collision had happened and sent a signal to the airbag to deploy but it failed to do so.
Should The Airbag Have Deployed or Not?
Auto and airbag manufacturers can be held liable if the injuries were caused by a defective airbag that did not deploy, or did inflate when it was not designed to. The fault in this situation can lie with the auto manufacturer, the airbag manufacturer, or with the maker of the airbag sensors.
The link between your injuries and the airbag can be made with testimony from experts, computer simulations, and a careful review of your medical records. If the manufacturer of the vehicle or airbag is found to be liable, you may be eligible for compensation for medical costs, lost wages and pain and suffering.
It should be noted that most auto manufacturers attempt to insulate themselves from the risks of lawsuits for airbags not deploying. They do not make specific guarantees about when the airbag will deploy. Keep these facts in mind:
- Drivers often think that the frontal airbag will deploy in all accidents. However, the legal language used by vehicle manufacturers makes it hard to know exactly when the airbag will activate.
- If you are in an accident and your airbag failed to deploy and you think it should have, the best course of action is to consult with an attorney who specializes in these cases. Proving that the airbag should have definitely deployed in your accident requires extensive legal proof that really can only be attained through extensive litigation.
- A legal expert will work with automotive engineers and other experts to determine if the airbag indeed should have deployed in your accident.
- In some cases, it might not be needed to show the specific reason the airbag failed to deploy in an accident. If the engineer can testify that the airbag should have deployed based upon the accident and speed, the legal case will be much stronger.
Most modern vehicles are equipped with a ‘black box’ that can be helpful in providing the crash data that is needed to prove if the airbag should have deployed. For example, the ‘black box’ will typically indicate how fast the car was going, whether the brakes were applied, and whether you had your seatbelts fastened. A skilled legal team can use the data from the black box to possibly build a case that the airbag should have deployed and did not.
If you choose to file a lawsuit regarding your airbag not deploying, you have to show with the help of an attorney that the way that the vehicle and/or airbag was made was dangerous in an unreasonable way. An airbag that did not deploy when it should can constitute ‘unreasonably dangerous,’ if enough evidence is presented that shows the device should have deployed but did not.
Common Airbag Injuries
If your airbag does not deploy when it is designed to, you could suffer whiplash, skull fractures, fractured ribs, brain bleeding, internal organ damage and spinal cord injuries. If you can prove in a civil lawsuit that the airbag should have deployed and did not, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and mental anguish.
- NHTSA Airbag Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/air-bags