Seat belts are essential and legally required safety equipment for most vehicles. People rely on seat belts to protect them and decrease the risk of injury or death in the event of an accident. The purpose of a seat belt is to restrain a vehicle’s occupant during a crash and prevent or minimize impact with surfaces including the windshield, steering wheel, and vehicle’s roof, but what happens when a seat belt is defective?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every year around three million people are injured due to seat belt failure, and approximately 40,000 are killed because of this preventable defect. Here’s what you should know about defective seat belts and the law.
Potential Consequences of a Defective Seat Belt
Just like any other consumer product, vehicle seat belts may be flawed or ineffective if there are defects in the design or manufacturing process. The closures and webbing material of a seat belt are designed to withstand up to six thousand pounds of force, but defects or flaws can weaken its effectiveness. If a seat belt fails during an accident, it can result in serious, catastrophic injuries or even death.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that seat belts only minimize the risk of injury or death, and do not by themselves prevent accidents. Some collisions are simply too catastrophic to survive, even with properly made seat belts, and thousands of people are injured or killed in auto accidents while wearing working seat belts.
Common Types of Seatbelt Defects
There are a few common ways a seat belt can fail due to manufacturing defects or design flaws. These include:
- Weak or defective seat belt webbing. While the straps of a seat belt are required to withstand the force of an impact, in some cases the seat belt webbing may be ripped or torn during an accident. This can be an indication of defective materials.
- Seat belt retractor locking failure. The shoulder belt is designed to lock in place during a collision, to keep the vehicle occupant against the seat. If this locking mechanism fails, the person can be thrown against the windshield or steering wheel, resulting in serious injury or death.
- Inertial unlatching. This defect occurs when a seat belt buckle becomes unlatched during an accident due to the force of the collision. While many auto manufacturers deny this is possible, some cases have been shown to occur in seat belts with latching buttons on the front of the buckle, rather than at the top.
- False latching. In this type of flaw, the seat belt may look and feel like it’s been properly latched when it has not actually connected properly. This can result in the latch plate releasing under a small amount of force, potentially causing serious injury or death that could have been prevented.
Legal Recourse for Defective Seat Belt Injuries or Death
If a seat belt manufacturing defect or design flaw causes injury or death, you have certain legal rights that allow you to seek legal recourse. A skilled product liability and car accident lawyer Harrisonburg VA relies on can help you investigate the possibility of a defective seat belt being involved in an accident. In cases where a properly working seat belt could have prevented catastrophic injury or the death of a loved one, you may be entitled to compensation from the automobile manufacturer.
Our attorneys are experienced in product liability and personal injury litigation, and we may be able to help you receive the compensation you deserve. Contact us for a consultation to discuss your defective seat belt litigation case.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from MartinWren, P.C. for their insight into auto accidents and seatbelt litigation.