While seat belts are designed to save lives, defective belts can lead to severe harm, even death.
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While seat belts are designed and marketed as a necessary line of defense for vehicle passengers, defective seat belts can make serious car accidents even worse, leading to severe injuries, pain and suffering.
Seat belt manufacturers and auto companies have a legal duty to design and manufacture seat belts that operate correctly in the event of a crash. Seat belts, in short, should be "crash worthy," able to survive the significant rigors of an accident while fulfilling their intended purpose.
Unfortunately, manufacturers do not always recall defective seat belts when they should. Some defective seat belts remain on the market for years, even though their manufacturers understand their risks, putting drivers and passengers at risk.
Generally, seat belts have two functions. Seat belts prevent passengers from being ejected from the automobile during the accident. At the same time, seat belts reduce the risk that a passenger or driver will collide with objects inside the car, which can cause injuries secondary to the primary impact of the accident.
Auto engineering experts define two stages to any accident. The first phase of any crash comes with the primary impact, when the car comes into contact with another vehicle or an object, like a tree or barrier. The second phase can occur simultaneous to the first phase, or directly after, when the occupants collide against features or objects inside the vehicle's interior, or are ejected from the vehicle entirely and collide with features of the environment outside the vehicle.
Seat belts show their true value during the second phase of an accident, by holding vehicle occupants in place and preventing them from colliding with objects inside the vehicle. Seat belts also reduce the risk that a vehicle occupant will be ejected from the car or truck.
More than any other safety feature, properly-working seat belts have an enormous potential to save lives. In 2016, researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate, nearly 15,000 lives were saved by using restraints, seat belts. Far more lives could be saved if every seat belt worked as intended. Unfortunately, seat belts can fail, often due to design or manufacturing defects. According to Peter Kent at StreetDirectory.com, an estimated 10,000 additional automobile deaths every year can be attributed to seat belt failure.
While statistics on the subject do not exist, we can expect that thousands of other victims are left with severe injuries due to a defective seat belt. In fact, some statistics place the number of seat belt-related injuries as high as 3 million, on an annual basis. Seat belt-related deaths and injuries are astoundingly common. They can also be severe, leaving victims with life-long disabilities. In tragic cases, families can be left grieving a lost loved one due to a seat belt failure.
Thankfully, seat belt manufacturers and auto makers can be held accountable for supplying consumers with defective seat belts. According to America's strong tradition of product liability, seat belt makers and vehicle companies have a legal obligation to ensure, prior to a crash, that the seat belts used in our cars work as intended.
When seat belts fail to work as we expect, leading to severe injuries or death, injury victims and their families have the right to file a lawsuit for financial damages. If you or a loved one were injured due to a defective seat belt, you may be eligible to sue the seat belt's manufacturer, along with the vehicle's manufacturer, for valuable and significant compensation.
While seat belt manufacturers have converged on a standard design for their products, there are still a myriad of designs out there, some of which work better than others. Accident experts have identified a wide range of potential seat belt failure mechanisms:
In order to better understand a crash and develop evidence, personal injury attorneys will retain the services of an experienced mechanical engineer to investigate the remnants of a seat belt after the crash.
Some older seat belt designs are inherently dangerous. Seat belts that feature only a lap belt, for example, present known risks of internal injury, spinal damage and death. There is evidence that automakers hid the risks of this particular design for at least 20 years, refusing to update their seat belts with shoulder webbing until the late 1980s.
Shoulder-only belts also pose their own risks. Without a lap belt to prevent downward motion, the body can slide down, underneath the shoulder belt, in the event of an impact. At this point, the occupant is not properly restrained, since their legs are directly impacting parts of the vehicle. As the shoulder belt draws taut, it becomes a hazard, potentially strangling occupants at the neck or leading to a severe back injury.
Ford has recalled around 2 million F-150 pickup trucks, citing a problem with the truck's seat belt. The problem lies in the seat belt's pretensioner, a component that uses explosives to force the seat belt clip downwards, automatically pulling the seat belt tight in the event of a crash.
"Ford's investigation," the company said in a press statement, "found that some front seat belt pretensioners can generate excessive sparks when they deploy." These sparks have caused fires when they catch on the car's insulation or carpeting.
Ford has received at least 23 reports of smoke or fire coming from F-150 seat belts. In some cases, the fires have been catastrophic. While no injuries have yet been reported, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received at least 3 reports in which a vehicle was entirely consumed by flames after a faulty pretensioner mechanism fired.
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