Defective Seatbelts

Defective Seatbelt Attorney

When seat belts work properly, they are the most important safety device in an automobile accident. When a seat belt is defective, works poorly or completely fails to work, the seat belt can cause serious personal injury and even death. Seat belts can be defective due to seat belt design failures, seat belt buckle defects and seat belt design defects. These defects are all causes of serious injuries and death during vehicle accidents and rollover accidents.

Good News for Seat Belts

Thanks in part to public service campaigns, such as the "buckle up for safety campaign," as well as to mandatory seat belt use laws, Americans now buckle up in record numbers. Most of us trust that if we are involved in an accident, our seat belt will restrain us and protect us from injury. In other words, we expect our seat belts to work.

Defective Seat Belt Systems

Unfortunately, millions of vehicles on the road have defective seat belt systems. Defective seat belt systems do not provide reasonable protection in otherwise survivable accidents. Many seat belt defects have been known to the auto industry for many years.

Common Seat Belt Defects:

* Seat belt buckle unlatching during an accident or rollover * Shoulder belt retractors that fail during an accident * Door Mounted seat belts are often inherently dangerous * Shoulder only belts can cause strangulations, neck and spinal injuries during an accident * Lap only seat belts can cause internal injuries and deaths in auto accidents * Chrysler Generation 3 (GEN 3) seat belt buckles inadvertent unlatching or release during crashes

How Does a Seat Belt Work in an Accident

The basic principles behind seat belts: A typical auto accident can be viewed as having two collisions. The "first collision" occurs when the vehicle impacts another vehicle or a fixed object. The "second collision" occurs when a vehicle occupant impacts the interior of the vehicle or is ejected and hits the ground. The second collision immediately follows, often only by milliseconds, the first collision. The purpose of a seat belt is to either prevent the second collision or minimize its injury-producing potential. A snug fitting lap and shoulder belt "ties" the occupant to the passenger compartment and allows him or her to "ride down" the crash, thereby minimizing or eliminating injurious occupant contact with the vehicle interior, such as the windshield, steering wheel or the roof.

Causes of Seat Belt Defects and Seat Belt Malfunctions

Inertial unlatching occurs when the seat belt becomes unlatched during a collision, allowing the latch plate to pull out of the buckle. Though the auto industry denies that a seat belt can inertially unlatch, recent testing has demonstrated how accident level forces can cause the buckle "pawl" or button to depress and release the latch plate. Millions of vehicles have seat belts that are susceptible to this phenomenon. False latching occurs when the latch plate looks, feels and even sounds like it is latched when inserted into the buckle but is not fully engaged. Minimal amounts of force will cause a falsely latched buckle to completely release the latch plate. When a seat belt is falsely latched or becomes inertially unlatched, the occupant is essentially unbelted and unrestrained and moves as though he or she were never belted in the first place. Such occupants are frequently ejected or found unbelted inside the car. Though the occupant was properly belted before the seat belt became unlatched, the police report will often list the occupant as being unrestrained. Cases involving inertial unlatching or false latching frequently arise when either a surviving occupant insists he or she was belted or when other occupants confirm that the deceased occupant was wearing a seat belt.

Windowshade Tension Relieving Devices

"Windowshade" devices - Most U.S. cars manufactured from the late-1970s to the late 1980s contained a "tension-relieving" device in the retractor, which, by design, introduces slack into the shoulder belt. These so-called "windowshade" devices operate much like a household windowshade - when the belt is pulled out of the retractor, the device engages and the belt remains in its new position. One consequence of the windowshade design is the inadvertent formation of excessive amounts of seat belt slack. By design, windowshade retractors permit occupants to intentionally introduce slack into the shoulder belt. Occupants can also unknowingly introduce slack into the shoulder belt by moving forward to reach for the radio or other items. As mentioned, slack undermines the effectiveness of a seat belt in an accident and can result in severe head impacts with the steering wheel, dashboard or windshield.

Vehicle System Failure

Vehicle "system" failure - To be effective, seat belts must work in conjunction with the vehicle's seats and surrounding structure. If the seats fail or there is significant roof crush or occupant compartment intrusion, seat belt effectiveness is reduced. In many accidents, occupants are injured or killed due to a combination of vehicle failures, such as excessive roof crush combined with inadequate restraint by the seat belt. Door Mounted Set Belt System Design Door-mounted and other automatic belt systems - These systems pose a slew of safety risks, including occupant ejection when the door opens during a crash and severe spinal cord injuries when an occupant with an automatic shoulder belt forgets to put on the manual lap belt.

Lap-Only Seat Belt Design

Lap-only belt designs - Though the benefits of utilizing a lap and shoulder belt have been known for decades, shoulder belts were not included in the rear seats of most U.S. cars until the late 1980s. Lap-only belts can lead to fatal or catastrophic injuries, including head, spinal cord and other internal injuries.

Takata Seat Belt Buckles

On May 23, 1995, it was announced that over eight million vehicles seat belt buckles were to be replaced or repaired under a voluntary safety recall campaign conducted by Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Daihatsu, Ford, Subaru, Suzuki, Isuzu, General Motors, Geo, Chrysler, and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Takata seat belt buckles manufactured by Takata Corporation were used in nearly in all the FRONT seats and some BACK seats of nine million cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUV) between 1986 and 1991. The investigation revealed that the Takata buckles' release buttons have broken or cracked rendering it in a dangerous condition. If the buckles' release button cracks or breaks off, then the buckle may false latch, inadvertently unlatch, fail under a load, partially unlatch , become inoperative and not latch at all.

Suspicion of Seat Belt Failure

Seat belt performance and potential effectiveness is highly dependent upon the facts of an individual accident. While it is difficult to generalize, the following facts, if present, might indicate a seat belt problem:

  • Both serious and non-serious injuries to belted occupants. For example, if one belted occupant walks away while another belted occupant is paralyzed or suffers a serious head injury.
  • An injured occupant is found wearing a loose-fitting seat belt. This could indicate the presence of excess slack.
  • An occupant is found unbelted but either the occupant or other passenger insists he or she was seat belted. This could indicate inertial unlatching or false latching.
  • An occupant in a frontal collision makes contact with the windshield. This might indicate the presence of excess slack or retractor failure.
  • A seriously injured belted occupant in a vehicle with limited structural damage. For example, if there is limited roof crush and limited intrusion into the occupant compartment during a rollover yet a belted occupant sustains head or neck injuries.
  • Serious injuries in a minor to moderate collision. When a restraint system works properly, occupants typically should not receive serious injuries in minor or moderate speed collisions.
  • The seat belt webbing is torn or ripped or the seat belt is pulled loose from its anchors. This could be indicative of either a seat belt defect or some other type of vehicle defect.

Evidence that a seat belt failed because of design or manufacturing defects is often subtle and can be difficult to detect. If a belt failure is suspected, the most important thing to do is preserve the vehicle and the seat belt system since it is extremely difficult to prove that a seat belt failed without the physical evidence. Have you been hurt or injured by a dangerous or defective seat belt or lap belt? Contact the Rasansky Law Firm online, or call our offices anytime at 1-877-659-1620 to discuss your situation with our experienced product liability attorneys. In the complimentary consultation, our attorneys will review your experiences and situation and provide you information regarding your legal rights, options, and responsibilities.


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