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Though airbags usually deploy correctly to protect drivers and passengers in an accident, occasionally defective airbags cause severe injuries. This may happen during an accident if an airbag fails to deploy, or it may occur when airbags randomly deploy. If you were injured by a defective airbag, you may be able to sue the manufacturer for damages via a personal injury claim.
Personal Injury/Liability Claims for Defective Airbags
In a personal injury or liability suit, the simple fact of your injury does not prove your claim. You must prove negligence (that someone did something wrong). In an airbag injury case, this means proving that the airbag was defective.
In a car accident, injuries resulting from a defective product within the vehicle, such as the airbag, are considered a second level of liability. The first level resides with the driver who caused the accident. The secondary level implicates the manufacturer of the defective product when that defect causes injuries in excess of the normal expectation had there been no malfunction. In other words, if the airbag had worked properly, you would not have suffered the injuries you suffered. These are also called crashworthiness claims.
Typically, crashworthiness claims involve one of the vehicle's safety features failing to work properly. In this case, the airbag. Any company involved in the airbag's manufacture may be held liable for the claimant's injuries that resulted from this failure.
How Do I Prove that my Airbags were Defective?
To establish a legal claim that the airbag malfunctioned, you must present evidence that the airbag had an unreasonably dangerous defect which caused harm. These cases can become quite complicated as they differ from typical personal injury claims.
Airbag suits typically require expert witness testimony. For example, your attorney may bring in an engineer to determine whether the airbag should have deployed. This expert will likely answer three questions:
- Should the airbag have deployed?
- If the airbag did not deploy, why not?
- Did the airbag's failure to deploy enhance the claimant's injuries?
The answer to the first question is not always "Yes." Airbag deployment should only occur under certain conditions. Typically, this involves a frontal collision occurring above a certain speed, with the vehicle's manufacturer establishing these criteria. However, it isn't a simple question of speed and angle; other factors enter the equation (hence, the expert). For example, a rear-end collision may qualify as one in which airbags should deploy if it sends the vehicle into another object at a high speed. For this reason, an expert accident reconstructionist, engineer, and safety expert are all common witnesses in a faulty airbag claim.
Is the Car Manufacturer Responsibile for My Airbags Not Deploying?
Manufacturers may be held responsible for a variety of defects, including:
- Defective crash sensors, which may cause airbags to inflate unnecessarily or fail to trigger inflation in a timely manner
- Single-force inflators instead of the more powerful multi-force inflators (which have been on the market for years)
- Missing or too few internal tethers, which cause airbags to inflate in a flat shape, like a pillow, rather than the more dangerous round shape
- A faulty inflation path that deploys the airbag horizontally instead of vertically
- Faulty safety tests employing only one type of dummy rather than dummies of various statures
Claims for Damages in Defective Airbag Cases
Even if you prove the manufacturer is responsible for defective airbags, you must prove you suffered harm as a result of this defect. Assuming this, you may claim compensatory damages and sometimes punitive damages as well.
Compensatory damages compensate the plaintiff for quantifiable losses. Common compensatory damages include:
- Lost income: includes wages lost due to the accident as well as future income, also called lost earning capacity
- Medical bills: includes treatment already received and estimated future treatment
- Pain and suffering: includes discomfort during and immediately after the accident
Punitive damages require proving egregious or careless behavior and are meant to serve as punishment of the defendant.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you are the victim of a defective airbag, schedule a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. He or she will advise you on the viability of your case and what damages you can reasonably expect to collect.
Most personal injury lawyers work on contingency. If a lawyer offers to represent you on an hourly basis, this may mean he or she doesn't believe you have a strong case. Do not be afraid to ask why he or she doesn't want to take your case on contingency.