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Can I Sue If My Airbag Injured Me?
Over a 25-year period (from 1987 to 2012), the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates airbags saved nearly 40,000 lives. While airbags offer clear accident support when used properly, they can also contribute to life-threatening and deadly accidents. If an airbag fails to deploy or defectively deploys, anyone injured may retain the right to file a personal injury claim.
How Airbags Work
Vehicles did not always feature airbags. Automakers introduced them in the marketplace around 1970, but they remained a rarity in vehicles until the mid-to-late 1980s. Airbags sit inside the steering wheel and behind the passenger seat side dashboard. If the vehicle detects a certain amount of force, it trips a sensor connected to the airbag. A canister connected to the soft fabric bag releases a mixture of chemicals and initiates a reaction to quickly inflate the airbag. The bag also contains secondary chemicals to reduce the irritants created during the chemical reaction.
Airbags can fully deploy in around 0.03 seconds and tend to deflate at 0.10 seconds after impact. The reaction happens quickly to lower the overall impact of a crash and spread it over a larger bodily area. When airbags work properly and vehicle occupants wear seatbelts, they significantly reduce the likelihood of severe injury and death. When they fail, however, they can cause more harm than good.
How Airbags Can Cause Harm
Manufacturers designed airbags to minimize harm for anyone old enough to sit legally in the front seat of a vehicle. The force of impact can cause more harm to young children in car seats, which is a large part of why children and infants should sit in the backseat.
During reasonable case uses, the airbag itself may cause harm if it fails to deploy or improperly deploys. The gasses the airbag releases during deployment cause or worsen respiratory conditions and skin sensitivities. Airbags can fail to deploy or deploy at the wrong time and injure a driver or passenger. In the case of the massive Takata airbag recall, shrapnel from the propellant canister can fly out of the airbag area like a speeding bullet.
To date, the Takata recall represents the largest and most comprehensive safety recall in American history. The recall includes around 42 million vehicles from 19 automakers. The defect has contributed to 11 fatalities and 180 injuries so far, and it continues to make the news on a regular basis.
Liability in Airbag-Related Injury Claims
Occupant behaviors, the presence of airbag or vehicle defects, and maintenance activities can all determine liability in airbag injury claims. An occupant or driver may face liability if he or she fails to wear a seatbelt or engages in other negligent behaviors and if the airbag deploys properly during the accident.
An automotive manufacturer may face responsibility if the company improperly installed or inspected the airbag prior to selling the vehicle. An airbag manufacturer, such as Takata, may face liability if the airbag failed to deploy, deployed at the wrong time, or if a propellant canister sends shrapnel into vehicle occupants. A maintenance crew may bear partial or total responsibility if they failed to use reasonable care around an airbag and contributed to an airbag-related injury.
If the airbag caused or contributed to an injury, an individual can file a claim against those responsible. Even an at-fault driver retains the right to compensation from a negligent vehicle or airbag manufacturer in product liability cases.
Protect Your Rights in an Airbag Claim
Anyone who suspects an airbag contributed to accident injuries may want to take action quickly. Take pictures, reach out to a Kansas City product liability lawyer, and try to preserve evidence of the airbag defect. The crash sensor, deployment area, and airbag itself may prove liability in a car accident claim. Regardless of vehicle ownership, anyone who suffers an airbag injury reserves the right to take action against the responsible party.