Airbags clearly save lives. In fact, from 1987 to 2015, frontal air bags saved 44,869 lives. Unfortunately, airbags can actually cause injury, even when they function properly. Stories of airbag recalls and of airbags not deploying remind us that no technology is perfect. If you have been the victim of an airbag injury, read on for more information about who may be liable and how to collect compensation for your injuries.
Types of Airbags
Airbag placement is very specific to the model and year of your vehicle and has become quite complex over the years. There are multiple types of airbags, but the most common are front airbags and side airbags.
Front airbags are located in the front seat of vehicle on the driver and passenger sides and have been mandatory in all cars sold in the U.S. since 1995. The driver’s airbag deploys from the steering wheel and the passenger’s airbag comes from the dashboard.
Side airbags deploy from the sides of the vehicle and are meant to protect you from side impact. There are multiple types of side airbags.
- Torso airbags are located in the side of the seats to protect your torso.
- Curtain airbags deploy from ceiling to protect your head. They may cover the front and rear seats and may also protect third-row passengers in larger vehicles.
- Front center airbags are located between the front seats and are deployed to protect occupants from a collision on the opposite side of the vehicle.
Knee airbags deploy from under the front seat dashboard to prevent an occupant from hitting their knees on the hard surface and potentially shattering their kneecaps (which is common in high-speed frontal crashes).
How They Work
Airbags are not meant to deploy in all crashes but should deploy in a “moderate to severe crash.” This means the equivalent of hitting a solid, fixed barrier at 8 to 14 mph or higher, or hitting a parked car of similar size at about 16 to 28 mph.
In a moderate to severe crash, the airbag system’s electronic control unit sends a signal to an inflator in the airbag module. An igniter starts a chemical reaction that produces a harmless gas to inflate the airbag. Airbags inflate very rapidly—less than 1/20th of a second—and may be covered in dust and chemicals from the deployment. Since airbags can only deploy once, they must be replaced immediately after a crash before you drive the vehicle again.
How Airbags Cause Injury
Airbag injuries can be caused by malfunction or a defect, but they can also happen as a result of normal airbag deployment.
Sitting too close to an airbag can cause injury. Drivers should be seated at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel. Airbags are also not safe for small children. Rear-facing car seats should never be placed in front of an airbag and children under 13 years old should always be seated in the back seat.
Malfunctions and Defects
Malfunction of the crash sensor is the most common deployment error. A malfunctioning sensor could cause injury by:
- deploying the airbag at the wrong time, even when there is no crash;
- failing to deploy the airbag entirely;
- only deploying one airbag (e.g., deploying the driver’s side but not passenger side airbag); or
- deploying the airbag too late.
Common Airbag Injuries
Airbag-related injuries may include:
- burns and abrasions to any part of the body that comes into contact with the airbag (from the speed of the airbag deployment)
- eye injury (from impact with the airbag)
- lung irritation, asthma attacks (from chemicals released during deployment)
- broken bones and soft tissue injury to the chest (from the impact of the airbag)
Who Can Be Held Liable?
Simply because you were injured by an airbag does not mean that someone is liable. However, if you believe you were injured by a malfunctioning airbag you may have a claim against the manufacturer of the airbag or vehicle, or against the party responsible for replacing the airbag if it has been replaced. This is known as a products liability case and is different from a standard car accident case.
In this type of case, you would have the burden of proving there was a manufacturing or design defect, so preserving the evidence is critical. You will need to preserve any evidence related to the airbag, including any parts and the vehicle’s computer. This may require that you hold onto the car for further inspection, so do not let the insurance company take possession of the car.
Counterfeit airbags have shown to consistently malfunction, including failing to deploy and the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment. While this issue affects a very small percent of vehicles in the U.S., consumers should be aware that counterfeit airbags are an issue, especially if you had your airbag replaced at a repair shop that is not part of a car dealership or you purchased a replacement airbag online.
Navigating a claim for an airbag injury can be complicated. The Kelly Law Team will work with you to investigate any potential defects and malfunctioning of your airbag and work with you to maximize your recovery. Contact us today at 602-283-4122 for a free consultation.