Seatbelts have saved many lives since they were mandated in all new vehicles in 1968, with an estimated 14,955 lives saved in 2017 alone. (NHTSA.gov). But they have cost lives, as well. Defective seatbelts and seatbelt failures have led to severe injuries and even death in many car accidents.
How common are seatbelt defects and failures? In a recent year, there were 4,159 car occupants properly strapped into their seats that died in car accidents, according to the NHTSA.
It is uncertain how many of these fatalities were caused by seatbelt failures, but American auto manufacturers have issued more than 1,000 seatbelt recalls since 1996. For example, the Ford Motor Company recalled 108,000 cars in 2019 over faulty seatbelts. Evidence showed that front seatbelt cables in Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ vehicles could lose strength from heat buildup and may not restrain passengers during a crash. (Newyork.CBSlocal.com)
This page is intended to help accident victims obtain compensation and justice if they have been injured in a car accident from a defective or failed seatbelt. Please contact our law office to determine if you have a strong legal case. You could be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
Who Is Liable for Defective and Failed Seatbelts?
If your seatbelt malfunctioned or failed in an accident, you may wonder which company you should sue. Depending on the situation, the seatbelt manufacturer, automaker or other companies could be liable. Your product liability attorney will examine the following factors in your case to determine which parties could have been negligent:
- Flaws and defects in seatbelt design
- Subpar manufacturing materials in seatbelts
- Failure to test seatbelt safety
Any of the above can be fruitful grounds for a product liability lawsuit. The defending party would need to prove that they manufactured a working product, and also carefully tested them to ensure they work under all conditions. If there was a problem with any seatbelt, manufacturers also need to issue product recalls as soon as possible and communicate to the public that a problem exists.
Injuries From Seatbelt Defects and Failures
The NHTSA does not keep accurate statistics on seatbelt injuries. And car manufacturers are reluctant to release information about defective seatbelt injuries. But we know that injuries from a defective seatbelt can be severe, life changing, and sometimes fatal:
- Wrongful death
- Broken bones
- Head trauma, including concussion
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Major soft tissue damage
Common Types of Seatbelt Defects and Failures
Some of the most common seatbelt defects and failures that can lead to injury or death include:
- Faulty tension relieving component and excessive slack in belt: A seatbelt system that has a device for allowing shoulder slack can often fail to retract in a crash, leading to slack that is permanent. Many such devices may retract the belt after the driver or passenger tugs the belt when they move forward. But a crash can happen when the belt is slack. The user can have severe head, facial or abdominal injuries in a crash.
- Shoulder belt spool out: This is a problem that is also known as skip lock. It occurs when the seatbelt does not lock, or it locks up late in a car accident. When the seatbelt system where the seatbelt is designed to look when a car goes above a certain level of deceleration has skip lock, you can suffer serious head and spinal injuries.
- Defective buckle and inertial unlatching: Some seatbelt buckles can release during a crash and open. The force of the forward movement of the driver or passenger can be transferred to the buckle spring. This releases tension on the latch plate. This problem can happen even in a slower speed crash. If it happens, the occupant can suffer the same crash dangers as they would have if they had not worn a seatbelt.
- Defective buckle: Some buckles have been shown to partially unlatch, falsely latch, fully unlatch, fail under load, and/or become inoperative. This problem occurred with GEN 3 buckles that are in 1993-2002 Chryslers.
- Lap belt only: Some rear seats, center seats and some front seats in older cars only have lap belts. If the upper torso is not restrained, you can suffer serious or fatal injuries. The NTSB has stated that lap belts by themselves can actually increase the frequency of injury.
Detecting a Seatbelt Failure
If you are in an accident, determining there was a seatbelt failure is not always easy. The effectiveness of the car’s seatbelts should be judged based on the facts of the accident and injuries. Some of the signs of a seatbelt flaw or failure are:
- Person hurt in the crash is found with a seatbelt that fits loosely.
- The injured occupant is not wearing a seatbelt but insists they were wearing one during the crash.
- A seatbelt exhibits worn or ripped webbing.
- Serious injuries in a minor car accident.
- Front seat occupant’s head or body struck the windshield.
- Discrepancy in seriousness of injuries from occupants with seatbelts. For example, if one person walks away from the accident with minor injuries and the other has major injuries, a seatbelt error could be the problem.
How to File a Defective Seatbelt and Failure Lawsuit
If you want to file a lawsuit for a seatbelt defect or failure, you must prove the auto or seatbelt manufacturer was negligent. In a product liability lawsuit, at least one of the following must be proven:
- The seatbelt had a design flaw that was not properly addressed during the testing process.
- There was a manufacturing mistake during the creation of the seatbelt or during seatbelt installation.
- There were no warnings on the seatbelt or in the vehicle user’s manual.
Your attorney will work to determine if it can be shown there was a design or manufacturing mistake with the seatbelt. If so, evidence may include:
- The defective seatbelt, if possible. It should not be repaired or given back to the company for a refund. If you are unable to show that there was some type of flaw with the seatbelt, it is unlikely you can be compensated for your losses. Be sure to take pictures of the seatbelt as well as videos if you cannot get your hands on the seatbelt later.
- Evidence of accident injuries that occurred due to the seatbelt defect or failure. It is recommended to photograph your physical injuries. Be sure to keep copies of all receipts and expenses and keep any notes from your doctor about your accident injuries.
- Include any other proof of the accident, such as eyewitness testimonies, police reports and surveillance footage.
Value of a Seatbelt Defect or Failure Lawsuit
Your product liability claim could be worth a lot of money, depending on your injuries and the particulars of the accident. The insurance adjuster will use a variety of factors to put a dollar figure on your claim:
- How severe your injuries are
- The effects your injuries have had on your life and job
- Your age
- The type of job you have and how much you are paid
- Level of negligence for the crash, if any
For instance, say that you suffered minor injuries in an accident and you tried to repair the seatbelt flaw and made it worse. Your settlement offer would probably be small. But if you were hit by a car that ran a stop sign and your seatbelt unlatched on its own and you were seriously injured, your case could be worth substantial compensation.
Compensation for a Defective Seatbelt Claim
You may be eligible to receive various types of payment for your seatbelt failure lawsuit. Your attorney will work to obtain compensation for the following:
- Medical costs from hospitalization, surgery, medication and physical therapy
- Property damage for repair costs to your car
- Lost wages for the time you are unable to work
- Pain and suffering for emotional trauma, PTSD, anxiety, mental trauma, etc
- Wrongful death costs if your loved one died from the accident: funeral costs, pre-death medical costs, loss of consortium, loss of inheritance, life insurance, 401k benefits, etc.
Contact a Defective Seatbelt and Failure Attorney
If you or your loved one was hurt or killed because of a defective seatbelt, a product liability attorney can help to determine if filing a lawsuit against an auto or seatbelt manufacturer would be appropriate.
Note that many law enforcement officers who investigate car crashes may not have the training and experience to see a defective seatbelt may have contributed to accident injuries. Please contact our law office today for a complimentary case review.
- Seatbelt Safety Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts
- Ford Recalls 108,000 Cars Over Faulty Seatbelts. (2019). Retrieved from https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2019/08/14/ford-seat-belt-recall/