“Click-it or ticket” is the familiar slogan encouraging us to take advantage of a car’s most essential life-saving feature: the seat belt. Since 1968 when seat belts became mandatory in all motor vehicles, millions of lives have been saved and countless injuries averted. While seat belts cannot prevent all injuries, they can preclude a properly restrained occupant from receiving serious injuries in a collision. Of course, this is true only when seat belts work as intended.
A properly adjusted seat and shoulder belt keeps the occupants snug in their seat sand minimizes the chances of their being ejected or striking anything inside the vehicle. Unfortunately, not all seat belts function as they should and seat belt defects can lead to traumatic and often preventable injuries. Responsible drivers, who buckled up, yet had their seatbelt fail them, should not have to endure the same ill fate as someone who simply neglected to fasten their seat belt.
In these cases, the injured victim should consult with an experienced seat belt defect lawyer to best understand their legal options and rights.
Indications of Seat Belt Defects
- A minor collision that results in a serious head injury to an occupant wearing a seat belt.
- The injured party is found with a loose-fitting safety belt.
- The vehicle occupant is found without a seat belt on, but they insist they were wearing one and strap marks are on the occupant’s body.
- The strap webbing is torn or it has been ripped from its anchors or support.
- A front seat passenger strikes the front windshield, dashboard or steering wheel indicating the safety belt had too much slack or there was a retractor problem.
Common Seat Belt Defects
False Latching— When an occupant fastens his or her seat belt, he or she may hear or feel it latch into the buckle, but even a minor collision may cause the buckle to completely release from the latch plate. As a result, the now unbuckled occupant can be tossed around inside the vehicle or even ejected.
Torn Webbing—Seat belt webbing should endure through most collisions, but because of a manufacturing flaw in the material or assembly, the webbing may be torn.
Retractor Failure—Seat belts should hold the occupant in place during a collision. If there is too much slack, it may be due to the retractor failing to properly lock due to a design or manufacturing flaw. A problem known as “skip lock” occurs when the seat belt fails to lock or does so too late after a collision occurs.
Door Mounted and Automatic Belt Systems—When a door opens during a crash and the occupant is only wearing the automatic shoulder belt, they can be easily ejected from the vehicle. Defective locking systems may contribute to the occupant’s injuries.
Types of Seat Belt Defect Injury
Injuries from a malfunctioning seat belt can be devastating. They often include:
- Neck and back injuries
- Abdominal injuries
- Shoulder and head injuries
- Serious spinal injuries
In the most severe collisions occupants can be thrown into a windshield or ejected from the vehicle with often life-threatening consequences.
Tips for Avoiding Seat Belt Defect Injury
Inspect the seat belts to see if the webbing is torn or ripped. This can occur as a result of a major or minor collision and may indicate a flaw in the material or weaving process.
If there is too much slack in the belt that cannot be fixed, it may indicate a serious flaw that needs to be fixed immediately.
Test the latch by pulling on it to see if it securely latches and does not come out.
If you are injured in an accident where you suspect a seat belt defect, do not have the vehicle repaired. You should make sure to have an expert evaluation of the seat belt and seek legal advice.
While it can be difficult to recognize the responsible parties in a seat belt defect injury case, an experienced seat belt failure attorney can identify the liable auto or seat belt manufacturer and effectively pursue your injury claim.