Properly functioning seat belts are designed to restrain the passenger, prevent partial or full ejection during a collision, and minimize the movement of the wearer. As state and federal governments began requiring and enforcing mandatory use of seat belts while operating a motor vehicle, the regular use of seat belts dramatically increased. This sharp increase directly correlated with an increase of injuries and deaths linked to seat belt failure, revealing the glaring and fatal defects in some common seat belt designs.
The personal injury attorneys at Healy Scanlon Law Firm in Chicago have extensive experience representing those who have suffered injuries or deaths caused by seat belts. We are thoroughly familiar with the common design defects and will aggressively represent your interests in a lawsuit.
Seat belt failure and subsequent injuries may result from a wide range of structural design flaws:
A significant percentage of American cars and trucks contain seat belts with a release button on the front of the buckle. During a collision or rollover accident, the release button may contact some part of the seat structure or the wearer’s body, triggering the release button. Once the seat belt is disengaged, the passenger is free to violently fling about inside the vehicle, possibly sustaining severe injuries from impact with the car or ejection from the moving vehicle.
Seat Belt Slack
The “window shade” seat belt generation was introduced into many automobiles in the 1970s and 1980s. This design allowed the wearer to intentionally introduce slack into the restrain system. Slack could be unintentionally introduced as well through such movements as leaning forward to adjust the radio or the climate control. Unfortunately, this convenient feature created weaknesses in the restraint system and increased the likelihood that the wearer could sustain severe injuries during an accident. This structural defect can lead to full or partial ejection as well as “submarining,” a phrase coined to describe when the torso slips underneath the belt but the chin or neck is caught on the belt, resulting in severe head or neck injuries.
Studies prove shoulder-only seat belt restraint systems are extremely ineffective in rollover accidents and collisions. The torso of the passenger often slides underneath the restraint while the neck or chin is caught by the seat belt. This “clothes lining” effect can result in severe head and neck injuries, strangulation, and even decapitation.
In the 1980s, many manufacturers installed automatic or door-mounted seat belts with manual lap belts. Studies demonstrated most drivers and passengers failed to engage the lap belt, making the grave mistake of thinking the shoulder restraint properly restrained them. Another unfortunate risk associated with this seat belt design is ejection of the wearer from the moving vehicle. This occurs when the door unintentionally opens, disengaging the shoulder restraint and leaving the passenger without any form of protection.
Lap-only seat belts provide hardly any more protection against violent movement and ejection than not wearing a seat belt at all. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board suggests that lap-only belts actually induce injury. Upon impact of a collision, lap-only seat belts fail to restrain the upper torso, allowing the passenger to fiercely flail about. Furthermore, during a rollover, passengers wearing a lap-only seat belt are often ejected from the car.
Despite the known design defects of lap-only seat belts, manufacturers continued to install lap-only seat belts in vehicles as late as 2002.
If you or a loved one has sustained an injury as a result of a lap-only seat belt, contact one of the experienced auto and truck accident attorneys at Healy Scanlon Law Firm. Our auto and truck accident injury attorneys have helped numerous Illinois residents develop strong liability suits against negligent automobile manufacturers that continue to install dangerous lap-only belts despite known design flaws. Call 312-226-4236 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.