Theoretically, our cars should be designed to protect us during a crash. However, sometimes things can go wrong, and even our airbags - which were designed to keep us safe - can cause serious injury.
When they work properly, airbags undoubtedly save lives. Frontal airbags have been found to reduce driver fatalities by 29%. However, they do not always work. Airbags can fail to deploy or deploy too forcefully.
What do you need to know about defective airbags and what can go wrong? Let’s take a look:
Common Airbag Defects
In general, there are three general types of airbag defects (1) failure of an airbag to deploy or (2) an airbag deploys too aggressively, or (3) an airbag deploys at the wrong time.
In the news media, recalls relating to airbags are widely publicized. More than 41 million vehicles in the US have been recalled because of defective airbags – just from one defect. The Takata-brand airbags have a defective part that has been found to explode, shooting sharp metal fragments at the passengers in the vehicle. While Takata is offering free replacements of these airbags, 16 people have been killed as a result of these defects, and hundreds more have incurred severe injuries.
Some airbags can have faulty wiring. In 2017, Fiat-Chrysler recalled 1.3 million vehicles because of faulty wiring. Within the wiring harness of the steering wheel, these airbags were improperly wired, which caused the airbags to deploy randomly.
Mazda’s recalled 60,000 vehicles relating to a short circuit in the airbag wiring, which means the airbag won’t deploy when it’s supposed to in the event of an accident.
In both of these cases, an airbag recall was determined to be necessary to protect the occupants of the affected vehicle. Why? When these defective airbags deploy, it can be deadly.
Airbags can still be defective even if they are not recalled.
What else can go wrong?
- The sensor might deploy one airbag, but not all airbags necessary to protect a vehicle’s occupants during a crash.
- The airbag might deploy but do so too late to be effective. Even a fraction of a second late and the airbag could deploy too close to the occupant’s head.
Cars can be checked for airbag safety issues or other recalls with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration here. When airbags don’t deploy or they deploy at the wrong time, it can be the cause of life-threatening injuries.
Airbags Do Not Always Protect People in the Same Way
In a study conducted of all airbags -including “smart airbags” that are designed to compensate for a person’s weight- it was discovered that for people of small stature, airbags can cause injury. The study examined data from over 67,000 drivers and front-seat passengers in accidents.
What did this study find? For people of average height -between 5’3” and 5’11”- airbags are effective. For those who are small of stature -shorter than 4’11” or taller than 6’3”- airbags can be harmful, regardless of the weight of the person. Those who do not fit within this height range may experience airbag safety issues. Statistically, those who are shorter than 5’ are primarily women.
Women and those who are small-statured are susceptible to serious injury from airbags. Airbags deploy at 200 miles per hour and can do a great deal of damage. If an occupant is small in stature, they necessarily sit close to the steering wheel to reach the foot pedals, which puts them directly in the path of the powerful force of an airbag.
Older women are particularly at risk for severe injury because many also have osteoporosis and other complications that can compound the injuries caused by the impact of a fast-deploying airbag. Why? Women tend to have thinner bones than men. Also, 80% of the 10 million Americans living with osteoporosis are women. For these women, an airbag can cause grave injuries.
Even under the best circumstances when airbags deploy as planned, they can still cause injuries. Airbags can harm a vehicle’s occupants in the following ways:
- The speed of an airbag deploying can cause abrasions or burns.
- The chemicals that release when an airbag deployed can irritate the lungs or airways.
- Airbags can cause severe injuries to the eyes.
When an airbag fails to deploy, that too can cause serious and life-threatening injuries. These injuries include the following:
- Head and neck injuries: When an airbag fails to deploy, the occupant can strike their head on the steering wheel, windows, or other hard interior structures in the vehicles. Airbags would protect those contacts if the airbags had deployed. Failure to deploy can cause head and neck injuries that include facial trauma, brain injuries, skull fractures, and cervical spine fractures.
- Torso injuries: Injuries to the chest and abdomen are common when an airbag fails to deploy. These can include rib fractures, heart valve and aortic injuries, cardiac rupture, abdominal and organ injuries, and injuries to the spine.
Putting this into perspective, let’s use a case example. A drunk driver crosses the centerline and hits your vehicle head-on and the driver airbag fails to deploy, but the unoccupied passenger frontal airbag deploys. It is possible under these circumstances that there is both a personal injury auto case as well as a product liability case. The drunk driver and his insurer would be responsible for injuries caused by the initial crash and a foot fracture, for example. However, the traumatic brain injury and facial fractures that would have been reduced or mitigated by the presence of an airbag had it deployed are the responsibility of the automobile manufacturer.
What Should You Do If You’ve Been Injured by an Airbag?
If you’ve been injured by an airbag, the first thing you need to do is get to safety and call 911. Of course, if you have been injured, your first priority should always be to seek medical attention. If you suspect problems with the way the airbags functioned in the collision, make sure your vehicle is preserved.
A ton of data can be gathered from your vehicle after a crash to determine what happened (and if something went wrong), which is why if you’ve been involved in a crash, it’s crucial to do your best to preserve your car and keep it in your possession for investigation. This includes all parts of the airbag and your car’s computer.
Then, contact us to help ascertain whether there may be a defect in the airbag system in your vehicle.
When to Contact an Airbag Defect Lawyer?
If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident, you should contact a lawyer to help you. The airbags in your vehicle are an automotive product, so if they were defective, you have the right to pursue an automotive product liability case. These kinds of cases are complicated and involve a great deal of investigation and legal experience handling these types of cases.
An experienced lawyer can help you determine what your next steps should be, and whether an automotive defect case is a right choice for you or if you were the victim of an injury caused by defective airbags. If you have been injured, you have medical bills to attend to and potential long-term injuries to contend with, and you should contact an airbag defect lawyer.
Why Choose Murphy & Prachthauser?
At Murphy & Prachthauser, we believe that your vehicle should be constructed to protect you during normal operation or daily use, and also in the event of a reasonably foreseeable crash. Even though the vehicle manufacturer cannot prevent the initial crash, manufacturers can design their vehicles to protect you in foreseeable crashes. Under Wisconsin law, vehicle manufacturers are responsible for “enhanced injuries” or injuries that were over and above the injuries that would have been sustained in the collision, but for the defect in the vehicle. Had the vehicle performed properly, the injuries sustained would have been reduced, mitigated, or eliminated altogether. We advocate for our client’s wellbeing and have represented many cases that involve airbag malfunction.
Murphy & Prachthauser will also thoroughly look for product defects, even if there is not a recall on your vehicle or its airbags. We work with clients who have been involved in crashes where there were problems with the airbag design, or because of the way the crash happened, the airbag did not deploy.
We are one of the few firms in Wisconsin who have the experience handling cases against auto manufacturers. We take our role very seriously and walk you through each step of the process to ensure your questions are always answered and your needs are always met.
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, and you suspect that your airbags were defective or compounded your injuries, give us a call today or request a free case evaluation. We’re here to help you get your life back on track.