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"Passenger safety" is still one of the big selling points in automobile marketing today, and airbags may well be the most important passenger safety feature developed in the past several decades. Yet, airbags are not all that safe. While they do save lives, airbag accidents, airbag injuries and airbag deaths occur with surprising frequency. Airbag injuries can result from faulty design or manufacture, and in particular from defects that result in airbags deploying too early, too late or not at all. Airbag injuries can also occur if the device deploys in a low-speed crash that would have caused no injuries, except for the airbags themselves through their sudden explosion and the chemicals that causes them to explode.
Seeking medical attention is at the top of the list. Be sure that you or a loved one involved in any accident seek immediate medical help.
Next, try to secure the vehicle and preserve it for inspection by an expert in airbag mechanics and deployment. Consult an experienced airbag attorney as soon as you can after the accident. An effective airbag lawyer with significant resources to fight these cases can help you with the vehicle preservation and with finding and retaining the necessary experts.
Given how complicated airbags are, and how many vehicles with airbags are on the road (177 million in 2006), airbag defects are bound to cause airbag accidents and airbag injuries. An airbag that does not deploy when it is supposed to can cause more airbag injuries and airbag deaths than those that do deploy.
It is likely, as several studies have shown, that more people are injured or killed from airbag defects causing the airbag not to deploy than from faulty deployment. In fact, a detailed study in 2007 by the Kansas City Star newspaper reported that over four times as many people in a six-year period suffered airbag injuries or airbag deaths by the airbags' failure to deploy as by faulty deployment. The airbag defect that causes the failure to deploy can result from many causes, including faulty airbag parts, faulty installation and faulty design. In addition, airbags are not a complete panacea; even when airbags deploy as they are supposed to, thousands of people are still injured and killed.
Airbag injuries can be caused by how the airbag reacts in an accident and whether or not it adjusts to the size, weight and position of the occupant, and to the position of the seat.
Because airbags can deploy at speeds as high as 200 mph, the potential for injury in an airbag accident is great. If an airbag deploys too early or too late it can result in serious injuries. If the occupant comes into contact with an airbag that is still inflating, that occupant is hit with an airbag traveling at up to 200 mph. If the occupant is thrown into a bag that is already deflating, that occupant may hit the vehicle's interior instead of the fully inflated airbag.
Various factors affect deployment of advanced airbag systems (installed in all 2006 and later models), which can create the risk of airbag accidents resulting from system failures or airbag defects. Some of these factors include:
In an airbag accident, faulty design or operation may be at fault. Different standards may apply to determine liability in such cases, and consulting airbag attorneys with experience in a broad spectrum of personal injury litigation and the resources to handle your case properly is vital. Without the necessary experience, resources and skill, some airbag lawyers may not pursue all claims and compensation available to you following an airbag accident.
If you have suffered an airbag injury, you may be able to recover financial compensation for your pain and suffering, medical bills, rehabilitation, lost wages or income, and property damage. Because of the complicated nature of airbag accidents, you should only consider a well-established, well-staffed and well-financed personal injury law firm to handle your airbag accident claim.
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With an estimated 177 million airbag-equipped vehicles on the road as of 2006, it is not surprising that airbag accidents and airbag injuries occur with frequency. Airbags are part of a passive restraint system, designed to be used in conjunction with seat belts. Even with occupants wearing seat belts, however, airbag accidents and airbag injuries occur. California ranks third in the nation in seat belt use, according to recent government data, with 93.4% of drivers using them regularly. The nationwide average is 81%. Since 1987, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA") reports that 22,466 lives have been saved by airbags. Yet, the NHTSA reports that since 1990, 284 airbag-related deaths have occurred.
As airbag accidents and airbag injuries have increased, the NHTSA has responded by requiring automobile manufacturers to install "smart" airbags, which were designed to reduce airbag accidents, airbag injuries and airbag deaths by adapting to a variety of occupant sizes and positions, as well as to different vehicle speeds and crash angles. However, even after these standards were implemented, airbag defects, related to design and manufacture, still are responsible for airbag accidents, injuries and deaths.
Airbag deployment is the last in a chain of events triggered by the sudden deceleration of a vehicle. Airbag accidents and airbag injuries can be caused by a failure of any link in this chain or by a poorly designed chain.
A number of studies suggest that single sensors can misread the need for deployment (if a crash occurs at certain angles, for example), causing an airbag to inflate too early, too late or not at all. Because of the potential for serious airbag injuries and airbag death, some manufacturers install more than one sensor and some even have back-up sensors in case of failures.
Faulty sensors or even too few sensors could be the cause of airbag accidents or airbag injuries. An airbag accident lawyer with the experience to know what to look for, and the resources to employ experts to investigate such events, is vital for successful prosecution of cases arising from airbag accidents and airbag injuries.
Airbag lawyers with technical knowledge of complicated airbag functions will usually know how to investigate the details of your airbag accident, airbag injuries or airbag death. Your airbag attorney should also, where appropriate, scrutinize the manufacturers' specific airbag designs, its installation, its record of airbag defects and its response to other airbag accidents and airbag injuries cases.
Over the years, advances in airbag technology have lead to changes in the way airbags are manufactured and used. Following are the types of airbags now in use:
The first airbags were frontal only. They were in modules located in front of the driver, inside the hub of the steering wheel. Later they were added in front of the front-seat passenger, behind the dashboard. Starting with the 1998 model year, all passenger cars (and with the 1999 model year all SUVs, pick-ups and vans) were required by the NHTSA to have frontal airbags. By the 2007 model year, all light vehicles were required to have advanced frontal airbags. These advanced designs are supposed to take account of more factors-such as weight and position of the occupant - to help to prevent airbag accidents and airbag injuries. However, because the NHTSA requires only that certain general safety standards be met, vehicle manufacturers are free to offer airbags of varying design as long as they meet the minimum safety standards; thus, not all airbags are created equal.
Vehicle manufacturers have also offered optional side and roof airbags over the years, as well as side-curtain airbags. Unlike frontal airbags, which are not designed to protect occupants from injuries in rollover accidents, rear-end collisions or side impact crashes, side airbags are often designed to offer additional protection from injuries for such accidents. However, these airbags, too, can cause airbag injuries and airbag accidents for some of the same reasons discussed above.
Side airbags are usually of three types: those that protect the head, the chest, or the head and chest. Side airbags which are supposed to protect primarily the head from airbag injuries are most often mounted in the roof rail above the side windows. They are usually designed to protect an adult's head in a serious side-impact crash. These airbags can offer protection in the form of tubular bags, or as a curtain. The curtain is generally meant to help protect rear and front occupants in a rollover accident. Side airbags, designed primarily to protect adult passengers' chests, are mounted inside a seat or in a door. Those designed primarily to protect an adult's head and chest from injuries in airbag accidents are usually mounted on the side of a seat and are generally larger than a chest-only side airbag design.
Airbags are intended to prevent occupants from pitching forward or hitting the vehicle interior when the vehicle in which they are riding goes through a rapid deceleration, which and what happens when a car or other vehicle crashes. The NHTSA has issued regulations to make airbags safer and to prevent airbag injuries and accidents, but these regulations do not require manufacturers to use specific designs. They only require that relatively broad safety standards be met. This means that even if a vehicle manufacturer has complied with the safety standards, it is still possible to establish legal claims against the manufacturers and others for airbag injuries and airbag accidents resulting from design or manufacturing flaws, mistakes in installation and inadequate warnings.
Keep in mind that your airbag may not offer the latest technology. The type of airbag design in your vehicle will depend on the year of your vehicle's model and on how your vehicle's manufacturer adapted its designs to meet federal safety standards. The specific design that your manufacturer uses may be responsible for your particular airbag accident and airbag injuries.
The attorneys at the Reeves Law Group have successfully handled thousands of personal injury cases. We have the resources to finance the handling of airbag accidents, and to utilize the services of medical, economic and engineering experts to determine the cause of the airbag accident and the extent of your damages. If you desire a case evaluation on an accident involving a potentially defective airbag, please call our attorneys at (800) 644-8000, or email us.