Even though the purpose of seatbelts is to protect car occupants from harm if an accident occurs, defective safety belts are the frequent cause of severe injuries during a car crash. Automakers and seatbelt makers have the obligation of designing and constructing crashworthy seatbelts, or ones that are capable of withstanding the happenings of a possible collision. While being crashworthy, the belts have also to fulfill what they’re meant to do. That is, they should be able to prevent passengers from colliding with objects in the vehicle, and to stop passenger ejection from an auto.

When seatbelt failure happens in a crash and leads to injuries, you have the right to seek compensation for your loss and suffering by filing a legal claim. To ensure that your claim is successful, you have to seek the services of a personal injury lawyer. Reach out to a qualified attorney who will help you with the process of bringing your claim as well, ensuring you get the compensation you deserve. If you wish to pursue a personal injury case due to seatbelt failure, contact the skilled attorneys at Orange County Personal Injury Attorney for a charge-free, confidential assessment of your situation. Read on to learn more concerning seatbelt failure.

Seatbelt Overview

A seatbelt refers to a restraining gadget used in vehicles like vans, cars, light trucks, and SUVs. Before, they were made to only restrain one’s body at the waist. However, as time has passed, they have been improved to restrain the upper part of one’s body, operating as what is called two-point seatbelts.

Otherwise called a safety belt, a seatbelt can be critical when an automobile makes a sudden and rapid stop or gets into an accident. Because of seatbelts, vehicle occupants and drivers putting them on are less likely to hit other passengers or part of the car’s interior upon impact. Auto occupants putting on seatbelts are also less likely to be ejected out of an automobile in case of a severe crash. People who aren’t wearing safety belts are often thrown out of vehicles in rollover accidents, and most of them pass away.

Today’s seatbelts also position the wearer in a way that he/she benefits from the other safety equipment, that is, airbags. Even though safety belts may appear as though they are modern equipment, their use dates back to the 19th century. However, at this time, they weren’t required to be fitted in American-manufactured automobiles until 1968 as a National Highway Safety Bureau directive. This did not mean vehicle occupants needed to put them on, and many didn’t. No law necessitated wearing a seatbelt up to 1984 when the U.S started implementing laws requiring motorists and occupants to buckle up.

The first law of this kind was enacted in New York. These laws penalized occupants and drivers for not putting on safety belts through fines, so people began buckling up more frequently. Approximately 75% of American passengers and drivers regularly put on safety belts in the present day. Still, the other 25% is a significant number of vehicle occupants, and several do pass away in case of auto accidents.

Seatbelt Failure Statistics

Unluckily, seatbelt failure is a noteworthy issue that results in severe injuries and, sometimes death to several individuals in the United States. According to reports by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), 47% of the 37,1333 passengers that were killed in vehicle accidents in 2017 in the U.S were not wearing seatbelts. Additionally, about three million people sustain injuries resulting from seatbelt failure annually in the United States.  Experts have discovered that seatbelt failure is among the key factors causing severe injuries in crashes in which an auto flips over (that is, rollover accidents).

The Second Collision

It’s during the 2nd collision stage of a car accident that seatbelt failure results in harm to the vehicle occupants.  Experts categorize auto accidents into two parts. The first is where one vehicle impacts an object or another automobile, and the second stage is the force of the occupants of the auto with the interior part of the car and possibly other objects (if it’s an ejection case).

Like it is with any other safety device, a seatbelt is supposed to reduce the damage and injuries resulting from a 2nd collision by eliminating or minimizing contact between a car’s occupant and the interior of the vehicle. However, the moment they fail for different reasons, injuries, and sometimes death may occur.

Types of Seatbelt Defects

Unluckily, there are manufacturing, design, and installation faults that may result in your car having defective seatbelts. Here are a few of the several most common defects:

  • False latching - False latching happens when the buckle appears safely attached, but it may not be completely engaged. If this is the case, even a slight accident may cause seatbelt to release, leaving you unprotected.
  • Inertial unlatching -This is when a seatbelt latch releases when a collision occurs. Even though vehicle industry leaders argue that this does not happen, a few tests have shown that the impact during an accident can result in particular seatbelts becoming unlatched.
  • Weaving or material flaws in the seatbelt - Belts are made to withstand immense force. Therefore, a seatbelt that rips or tears for any given reason possibly has a defect in their material.
  • Belt retractor failure - The retractor is one of the most crucial components of the safety belt system since it’s what locks the belt and passenger in place in case of an accident. Poor materials and design flaws may make the retractor to lock incorrectly and give sufficient slack in the seatbelt to result in injuries. In other instances, the retractor fails to function at all. When this happens, the passenger may hit surfaces in the auto in a similar manner as though he/she was not putting on a safety belt at all.
  • Lap only seatbelt designs
  • Poorly-mounted seatbelts - The most effective seatbelt anchor system is mounted to a vehicle’s seat. Other locations could create poor seat geometry. A vehicle’s seat has to function hand in hand with the belt. If it fails, the seatbelt effectiveness will decrease.
  • Poorly designed systems - Safety belts are part of a whole system that’s designed to keep passengers to their seats in case of a crash. Every component of the system can contribute to harm. The seatbelt’s anchor point affects the occupant’s position during a crash. Also, in rollover accidents, poorly designed safety belts can contribute to injuries to the neck and head that can leave you paralyzed.

These are only but a few of the things that can go wrong when it comes to seatbelts, leading to injuries. The more bad news is if your safety belt becomes unlatched in the course of a crash because it was faulty, an insurance provider or their defense lawyer may argue that you were not putting on one at all. In turn, they may ask that you be awarded little compensation because of your perceived negligence. Should these be the possibilities, do not hesitate to reach out to one of our skilled lawyers to defend your rights.

Signs that Indicate a Potential Seatbelt Defect

Detecting a seatbelt failure is not always a simple issue. The seatbelt’s effectiveness should be assessed depending on the specific facts of the particular collision and injuries. considering experience and cases, here are a few indications that may show a seatbelt defect:

  • The injured passenger doesn’t have a seatbelt on, but he/she insists he/she was belted before the accident
  • More than a single belted vehicle occupant suffered severe injuries during the collision
  • A belted auto occupant is ejected out of the automobile or comes in contact with the car’s windshield
  • A seatbelt is found damaged, ripped or otherwise torn after an accident
  • A belted passenger sustains severe injuries in a slight collision crash
  • A passenger harmed in the collision was found with a loose-fitting seatbelt
  • There’s a discrepancy in the severity of injuries from the buckled up passengers. For instance, one individual walks away unharmed while another suffers significant damage.

How to Establish if Safety Belts Were Faulty

If you get into an auto accident and find out that you’re the only person of the occupants in the crash that suffered unusually severe harm, a defective element of the auto’s safety belt system might be the reason for the injuries. It can be challenging to show that the injuries you sustained were due to safety belt failure without accessing the belt’s system itself. Thus, ensure that the seatbelt system and the vehicle are well-kept so that an accident reconstruction expert can assess them accurately.

Our personal injury lawyers have access to accident reconstruction experts that will help them to evaluate your case from every possible angle so they can determine what caused your injuries. With this information, the attorneys will be capable of determining who is liable for your treatment expenses and other losses. The lawyers also have access to medical specialists that will evaluate the financial charges of your medical treatment, ongoing care, and recovery process, and they will ensure you get your just compensation.

Seatbelt Failure Accident Injuries

When a faulty seatbelt causes a collision, injuries may arise to the chest, spine, extremities, abdomen, pelvis, brain, and the head. While the speed of the car and the kind of seatbelt defect contribute to the type of injuries suffered, faulty seatbelts can directly lead to or aggravate injuries.  Different injuries from bruises and minor cuts to severe injuries like spinal damage can result due to seatbelt failure. The most common injuries from seatbelt flaws include but not limited to:

  • Extreme whiplash
  • Internal bleeding
  • Pinched nerves
  • Internal organ damage
  • Fractured bones
  • Contusion
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Head trauma
  • Quadriplegia
  • Paraplegia
  • Knee injuries
  • Wrongful death

Liability in Seatbelt Failure Accidents

If you are injured due to seatbelt failure, both the manufacturers of the seatbelt and automobile could be blamed. Seatbelt designers work to come up with a system that protects passengers in given extreme conditions. However, these systems do not always operate as planned.

Seatbelts are tested by the manufacturer of the vehicle and the product creator to ensure they comply with particular safety standards. Even when these belts pass the required tests, standards may change, or flaws in manufacturing may arise, which make the product less effective. Also, auto manufacturers might be reluctant to embrace new seatbelt technology in automobiles, which could result in modern vehicles having outdated systems.

What if You are Partially to Blame for Your Injuries?

In certain seatbelt failure accidents, the defendant may argue that the victim was partially to blame for the injuries he/she sustained. If you share a particular level of responsibility, it could affect the total compensation amount that you will end up recovering from the other liable party.

In shared fault injury cases, California applies the pure comparative negligence rule. Here, the compensation amount you are entitled to get will be lowered by an amount that equals your share for liability for the crash.

For instance, suppose that you have been in a seatbelt failure accident where you and the seatbelt manufacturer are to blame. After the court determines liability, it is found that you were 10% to blame, while the safety belt manufacturer was 90% liable. Let’s say your total amount of compensation is $20,000. Under the pure comparative negligence rule, your damages will be lowered to $18,000. That is, the $20,000 minus $2,000 that represents your percentage of liability for the collision.

Remember that whereas courts are mandated to observe this law in a personal injury suit that proceeds to trial, it might be quite different if you are dealing with an insurance adjuster outside court. The adjuster may apply the comparative negligence rule in the course of settlement talks, but you can still negotiate the effect that rule will bring on your suit.

What Happens if an Occupant Without a Seatbelt Gets Injured?

When a car occupant is harmed due to a crash, and he/she was not putting on a seatbelt, he/she might have to face the seatbelt defense. However, note that as a motorist of an auto where an occupant isn’t wearing a seatbelt, you could be violating the law by permitting them to travel in your auto without their safety belts buckled. California VC 27315 provides that a motorist of an automobile shall not drive that vehicle unless every passenger and themselves are securely buckled up.

The Seatbelt Defense

The seatbelt defense is whereby an individual gets in a collision without wearing their safety belt and sustains injuries due to not putting on the belt. In this case, the negligent motorist liable for the crash will apply the seatbelt defense to try and eliminate or reduce their liability for the harm suffered by the victim who didn’t have their seatbelt on when the accident happened. When the at-fault motorist uses this defense as a way of eliminating or reducing their accountability for injuries, they have to show that:

  • In their exercise of ordinary care, the harmed person should have put on the seatbelt
  • The harm that arose wouldn’t have occurred had the seatbelt been use

For the negligent driver to prove the above points, he/she will have to hire an expert to verify that those injuries wouldn’t have occurred with a seatbelt on.

Possible Damages in a Seatbelt Failure Accident

As we said earlier, seatbelt failure might be difficult to notice, yet the related injuries are usually quite severe. If you have been in a crash that involves seatbelt failure, a proper investigation might be capable of identifying the manufacturing or design flaw that was the possible reason for your injuries. If you have been injured because of a faulty seatbelt, you may get the compensation that includes compensatory and punitive damages.

  1. Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are further divided into two: economic damages and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are also called special damages. These are kinds of damages to which a dollar amount can readily be attached. They’re meant to compensate for out-of-pocket expenses the injury victim has already spent or will spend in the days to come. They include but not limited to

  • Medical expenses (past, present and future costs)
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Disfigurement
  • Out-of-pocket costs
  • Cost of property damage

Non-economic Damages

Non-economic damages can also be referred to as general damages. These do not necessarily include out-of-pocket costs. They compensate for more subjective losses like:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Physical impairment (for instance, loss of the use of an organ or a limb)
  • Emotional distress
  • Disfigurement
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Costs for inconveniences

Limits on Damages

California personal injury law provides that uninsured drivers will not receive non-economic damages. The law prohibits most uninsured motorists from receiving non-economic compensation after a car crash, even when the other liable party is entirely to blame for the injuries.

An exception to this law is that the uninsured motorist will be capable of recovering non-economic damages if he/she has been in a crash with a driver driving while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs, and the motorist is convicted of driving while intoxicated in relation with the collision.

  1. Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are awarded to the victims as a way of punishing the negligent party for their wrongdoing. If the at-fault party’s acts were specifically careless or egregious, the court might rule that the defendant ought to be punished. In California, punitive damages are also called exemplary damages. These damages are significant. They discourage manufacturing companies from releasing faulty products or overlooking critical safety testing in the future. The condition for the award, however, is being able to prove that the liable party acted with malicious intent, was negligent, or his acts were intentional. These kinds of damages are not as common as compensatory damages. California courts rarely award them.

The law requires that the judge considers three factors when assessing the validity of the claim for punitive damages: These factors include:

  • Reprehensibility of the at-fault party’s conduct
  • The financial condition of the negligent party
  • The compensatory damages amount awarded or the actual harm sustained by the complainant

Statute of Limitations

A Statute of Limitations refers to the law that provides the timeframe by which a claim should be filed. Every state sets a limit on this timeframe after you have sustained injuries. After this deadline has passed, you cannot sue for damages or any other relief anymore.

California’s Statute of Limitations allows you two years from the day you sustained the injuries to file a claim in court.  And if you plan on bringing a claim for damage to property, for instance, your car, the period is three years from the date the damage happened. If you want to sue the negligent party for the wrongful death of your loved one, you will have two years from the date of death to bring your lawsuit.

However, we have specific instances that may extend the timeframe or impact when the deadline starts to be counted. This is known as tolling the Statute of Limitations. For example, the timeframe can be tolled if the defendant is out of state, below eighteen years old, legally insane, or in prison. After the condition causing the tolling has come to an end, the Statute of Limitations resumes or starts to run. Cases to do with tolling can be complicated. We recommend that you consult with a skilled personal injury attorney to find out whether you can still bring your claim.

Find an Experienced Seatbelt Failure Car Accident Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

If you or the person you love has suffered injuries because of Safety belt failure, know that you have the legal right to seek financial compensation from the negligent party by filing a personal injury claim. Most police officers that investigate these collisions miss the faulty seatbelt, and you may need to hire an accident reconstruction expert to unearth the whole truth. Our law firm has assisted many clients in getting their just compensation. Let our skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyers fight to defend your rights. Reach out to us to schedule a free and comprehensive consultation so we can get the details of your case. Contact the Orange County Personal Injury Attorney at 714-876-1959, and one of our lawyers will assist you with your seatbelt failure case.