Seat Belt Unbuckling Safety Hazards
In August, 2017, Ford Motor Co. recalled around 117,000 vehicles due to unstable bolts in car seats, and concern that seat belts or buckles could fracture.
The company said in a statement that inadequate rivet head thickness in the seat bolts could allow statement of seat belt buckles from their mounting bracket during a collision. Ford admitted this increases the risk of injury in the event of an accident.
Ford says if bolts fracture, the seat or the seat belt’s performance could be compromised in a sudden stop or collision. The 2017 recall includes the 2014 F-series pickup, 2014 E-series van, 2014-2015 Ford Escape and the 2015 Lincoln SUV in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Ford also issued a safety recall for 2017 Ford Focus vehicles due to an improperly installed left-side seatback frame. The company noted that inadequate weld penetration between the outboard pivot bracket and the pivot nut joint could endanger passengers in the event of an accident.
Consumers have the right to rely on seat belts and other car safety features. However, design and manufacturing defects are all too common and have serious consequences for drivers and passengers. As a result, the manufacturers of components or distributors may be held accountable for any damages and injuries.
Seat belts that unbuckle, rip, tear or dissemble under the stress of an accident are deemed defective. Considering safety belts are some of the most important safety features of a car, a manufacturer should face legal action if they do not comply with regular road safety guidance.
In April 2007, Joseph M. Lyon, along with co-counsel, his father, Michael F. Lyon, settled a case on behalf of a 14-year-old boy from Mansfield, Ohio who suffered a frontal lobe brain injury and facial deformity following an auto accident where his seat belt failed.
Through extensive litigation, it was shown the seat belt buckle was defective in design, and the manufacturer was further negligent in failing to recall.
Specifically, the seat belt buckle was defectively designed to inadvertently release during foreseeable accident sequences, and therefore the buckle design created a heightened risk of false latching.
Mr. Lyon presented evidence that the company knew of the alleged defect yet failed to adequately warn or recall the seat belt buckle. After two years of litigation, the parties reached a settlement two weeks before trial for a confidential amount that will provide the care and security for the minor child for the rest of his life.
Identifying Defective Seat Belts
Evidence that a seat belt failed during a collision because of a design or manufacturing defect is often subtle and can be difficult to identify in the wake of the accident. If a belt failure is suspected, however, it is important to preserve the vehicle and the seat belt system as much as possible for legal evidence.
Each accident is different, and presents numerous factors that may require specialists, collision engineers and legal experts to determine what contributed to an injury or fatality. The following circumstances may help to detect a defective safety belt:
- A passenger wearing a seat belt makes contact with the windshield.
- Serious injuries are sustained to a belted passenger in a minor collision.
- The seat belt webbing is found torn or ripped.
- An injured passenger is discovered wearing a loose-fitting seat belt.
- A passenger is found un-belted but insists he or she was secured in a seat belt.
- Two belted passengers in the same vehicle endure an accident and one passenger suffers much worse injuries than the other.
Seat Belt Design Defects
Design defects may be the primary issue. Lap seat belts and three-point seat belts are the most common types of safety belts used in the vehicles. A lap seat belt is a two-point strap, going over one’s waist/pelvic area, which should remain on the pelvis during accident sequences and is designed to hold a person in a car seat. Seat belt syndrome is often mentioned in the association with the lap seat belts use in the vehicles.
According to CPSafety, lap belts are perfectly safe, when used to install a harnessed child safety restraint. However, they provide poor protection to the lap belted person, endangering neck, head, spine and internal organs. This articles addresses those risks and ways to limit them.
By definition, a seat belt, also known as a safety belt, is a safety strap or harness, designed to hold a person in a car or aircraft seat securely and prevent the forward motion in case of collision. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act provides that NHTSA has the authority to issue vehicle safety standards, as well as to request car manufacturers to recall the vehicles with the identified safety-related issues for correction.
Laboratory test procedure no. 209 from NHTSA includes the following general requirements for the seat belts assemblies to achieve their basic purpose of preventing forward motion in a collision.
- A seat belt assembly should be designed for use by only one person at one time;
- A seat belt assembly should ensure upper torso restrain without shifting the pelvic restrain into the abdomen;
- Vertical forces on the shoulders and spine should be minimized;
- Hardware parts should not contain burrs or sharp edges;
- Seat belts should be supplied with the buckle readily accessible to a person, ensuring quick and easy removal of the seat belt assembly;
- Buckle release mechanism should exclude the possibility of accidental release.
Risks of Submarining In Lap Belt Defective Designs
Submarining or moving down and forward into the seat during the accident is another risk, associated with the use of seat belts. In this situation, the lap belt moves from pelvis to the abdomen and can cause serious injuries to the internal organs of the abdomen area.
There were several ideas suggested to solve the problem and reduce submarining risks. Thus, some car seats have metal bars beneath the car seat cushion. Another inventor suggested using a small air-bag located in the seat cushion to prevent sliding of the driver or passenger beneath the safety belt.
Car engineers have developed a whole range of car safety devices and systems to safely protect passengers during a collision and accident forces. Experts generally define active and passive car safety devices, where active safety is mostly referred to the systems and devices, which help prevent a crush or collision (for example, brakes), and passive safety is mostly associated with the devices, such as seat belts and airbags, which help protect car occupants during a crush.
Passive safety devices are often mentioned as the vehicle restraint system, because their major task is to prevent unsafe movements of occupants during a crush and thus avoid personal injury damages from hitting a steering wheel, windscreen, or dashboard. Ideally, the seat cushion, safety belts and airbags should work as one unified restraint system to protect people.
Lap Seat Belts & Three-point Seat Belts
Lap seat belts and three-point seat belts are the most common types of safety belts used in the vehicles. A lap seat belt is a two-point strap, going over one’s waist/pelvic area, which should remain on the pelvis during accident sequences and is designed to hold a person in a car seat.
Three-point seat belts have three points of mounting: two at either side of one’s waist area, and the third one – behind the shoulder. Three-point seat belts are considered to be a standard equipment in the modern car-making industry since 2004, and they provide far more protection during a car crush in comparison to the older lap seat belts because they full restrain the upper torso. However, lap belts are still present in many older cars.
Seat Belt Defects & Seat Belt Syndrome
Seat belt syndrome is often mentioned in the association with the lap seat belts use in the vehicles. According to CPSafety, lap belts are perfectly safe, when used to install a harnessed child safety restraint. However, they provide poor protection to the lap belted person, endangering neck, head, spine and internal organs.
Seat belt syndrome is typically associated with the following injuries:
- Abdominal organs damages
- Bowel rapture
- Lumbar spine fractures
- Ruptured Liver
- Closed head and facial injuries
Defective Seat Belt Lawsuits
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belts save 9,500 lives in the USA each year. However, seat belts can fail for a variety of reasons. Often seat belt failures result in severe and catastrophic injury.
Seat belt recalls are not uncommon at all when seat belt design standards are ignored or forgotten by car makers. Indeed, over 390 million cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles have been recalled since 1966 because of the identified safety issues either voluntarily by manufacturers or after lawsuits.
The following automakers have admitted safety feature failures and defective seat belts, and have subsequently recalled entire fleets of vehicles because of their failure to provide safe, road-worthy products:
Fiat Chrysler—In September 2016, Fiat-Chrysler recalled two million vehicles with alleged faulty seat belts and airbags.
Ford Motor—In, December 2016, Ford recalled almost 700,000 cars, some already on the market and over three years old, due to malfunctioning safety belts that have reportedly already caused road injuries. In a statement, a Ford Motor spokesman admitted that their product was inadequate and increased the risk of injury.
General Motors—In September 2016, GM recalled over 4 million cars due to software that may directly affect seat belt and air bag effectiveness, an issue that is reportedly already responsible for one road fatality.
Hyundai—The Korean automaker recalled almost a million vehicles for alleged defects related to the seat belt assembly.
Toyota—In February 2016, Toyota Motor recalled 2.9 million vehicles because of a malfunctioning seat belt assembly.
BMW—BMW of North America recalled several models in December 2016, for alleged defective software that affects the effectiveness of its safety belts.
Compensation for Victims of Defective Seat Belts
If you have been injured in a car accident and suspect it may have been due at least in part to a defective seat belt, it is critical to preserve the evidence and contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
An experienced product liability lawyer can assist in evaluating contributing causes of an injury. To build a compelling product liability case, there must be evidence that the design of the seat belt was defective or a manufacturing defect existed.
The Lyon Firm works with design experts and collision engineers to trace the defect back to a design or manufacturing source. Compensation may be awarded for incurred and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, as well as punitive damages against an automaker for disregard for the road safety of passengers.
Legal Representation for Seat Belt Failures and Defects
Seat Belts are one of the most crucial safety features of any vehicle on the road, and yet there have been hundreds of cases of defective seat belts that lead to injury and deaths when an accident occurs.
Consumers may take the safety of their cars for granted, and assume their seat belts will function as intended. But due to design defects and poor production, some seat belts will fail.
The Lyon Firm focuses on product liability litigation and works with auto industry experts to determine the root cause of seat belt failure. If you have been injured as a result of a defective seat belt, contact The Lyon Firm to review your case.