As a car owner or passenger, one of the least likely things you can expect is an airbag being the main cause of a car accident. However, Florida is one of the states with a high number of injuries resulting from defective airbags. The Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney specializes in helping victims of accidents caused by defective airbags to seek compensation. This guide gives an overview of defective airbags and the legal options you have when they expose you to injuries.
The Airbag Safety Situation in Florida
WUSF Public Media recently reported that Florida had the highest number of fatalities and injuries stemming from defective airbags manufactured by Takata. Florida authorities have been urging people to have these airbags replaced for their own safety. Defective airbags, in general, tend to release debris into cars and could explode at times, injuring or killing passengers and drivers. While the number of fatalities and injuries increase, it is estimated that over a million cars in Florida have defective airbag systems installed.
Replacing an airbag system in your car takes less than an hour. Car owners are increasingly being advised to be on the lookout for airbags with defects. The Florida Police Chiefs Association even partnered with the Airbag Safety Campaign to offer drivers information on the same. Thanks to this partnership, drivers and passengers are being informed on how to position themselves for airbags to work properly.
How Do Airbags Work?
Seat belts have, for years, been providing car passengers passive restraint during emergency-brake situations or crashes. Just like seatbelts, airbags are designed to offer your body this form of restraint when driving a car during emergencies. Instead of forcing you into an abrupt halt the way a seatbelt does, an airbag slows your body’s forward motion evenly in seconds.
Airbags usually comprise of a thin, nylon fabric folded into a car’s dashboard or steering wheel. They inflate when built-in collision sensors detect a collision force (equated to an object moving at about 24 km/h). The sensors communicate with an accelerometer to determine whether a crash occurred. Airbags inflate after being filled with nitrogen gas, which is produced when sodium azide reacts with potassium nitrate.
The entire process of inflating an airbag lasts for about 1/25th of a second. As short as this time may be, it is enough to help you from sustaining serious injury in a car crash. Airbag manufacturers have been under strict scrutiny from the authorities regarding the safety of their products. The strict measures in the manufacture of airbags have been brought by the recent fatalities attributed to defective airbags.
What Parts of an Airbag System Can Make an Airbag Defective?
An airbag system comprises several parts working together to keep you (the driver) and your passenger restrained in case of a crash. These parts also prevent you from banging your head against the steering wheel or flying out of the window. The system lets the airbag deflate in seconds after being inflated to prevent suffocation. Here are seven parts of this system that may have design and manufacturing defects:
- Crash Sensors
Crash sensors communicate to the airbag module about the right time to inflate the airbag. They can detect when a vehicle suddenly stops moving. They can also detect whenever your vehicle collides with an object while moving at 15 miles per hour or more. Faulty crash sensors are incapable of relying on information about a car crash to an airbag system as soon as it happens.
- Airbag Inflator
An airbag inflator, which is triggered by the crash sensors, makes up the airbag module along with the airbag itself. The inflator helps fill the bag for it to bulge outwards and hold you from hitting your upper body on any interior part a car. A faulty airbag inflator will restrict air from entering the airbag thus exposing you to various injuries in the event of a car collision.
- Indicator Lamp
A vehicle’s airbag system relies on the indicator lamp as its warning light. You can tell when there is a problem on the system when running diagnostic checks just by looking at this lamp. When the lamp stays lit after running the diagnostic check, the system may have a problem. If the indicator lamp is faulty, you may not tell whether the airbag is working properly.
- Diagnostic Monitoring Unit
The diagnostic monitoring unit helps conduct performance tests on a car’s airbag system. This unit coordinates with the indicator lamp to relay the results of the diagnostic checks to you. Any defects in this unit may make it hard to run diagnostic checks on an airbag system.
- Airbag (The Fabric Part)
An airbag (which is designed from nylon fabric) makes up an airbag system together with the six components discussed here. The bag is designed to offer restraint to a driver and passenger during a collision. Expect it to come with a heat shield for protection against scorching. Deformities in the bag may expose you to harmful chemicals or injuries such as head and neck injuries when the airbag system is deployed.
- Connection Coil
A connection coil makes it possible to deploy an airbag system from a car’s steering wheel. The coil can be found on the driver’s side airbag. You may also find it around the dashboard area connecting an airbag on the front passenger’s side. Defects in the connection coil result in an airbag deployment failure.
- Wiring Harness
An airbag system relies on a series of wires (the wiring harness) to connect its components together. The device may fail to start when one of these wires is broken or damaged. A faulty wire may also prevent the device from deploying.
How Do Defective Airbags Result in Injuries?
As much as airbags are proving effective at helping drivers avoid significant injuries during car accidents, there are various scenarios they can result in injuries. An airbag may cause injuries if it was recycled, counterfeit or improperly installed. The device may also be unsafe to use if it had a design or manufacturing defect and did not have proper warning labels.
Airbag manufacturers are required to observe the highest quality standards when producing airbags. Any defect in the products may put human life at risk and result in civil actions against the manufacturer. A defective airbag is one with design or manufacturing defects. Since not all car owners can distinguish between defective airbags and legitimate ones, a mechanical engineer may be consulted.
Airbag Deployment Resulting in Injuries
An airbag is designed to minimize the collision between you (an unrestrained car occupant) and your car’s interiors. All airbag deployment stages increase the probabilities of sustaining an injury when a defective airbag is installed in your car. The stages begin when sensors in an airbag detect a collision and end with the airbag itself slowing your body’s forward motion.
Defective Passenger Airbags
Cars with dual airbags offer passive restraint to both the driver and front passenger in the event of a crash. Unlike the driver’s side airbag, which inflates from the steering wheel, the front passenger airbag inflates directly from the side of a vehicle. Front and rear passengers can also be protected from collisions by curtain airbags. This type of airbag comes with a sensor to prevent deployment when a seat is unoccupied.
Passenger airbags can suffer design and manufacturing defects just like the driver’s side airbags. When they are defective, they may exert much pressure during deployment thus injuring the seat occupants. They may also fail to work as expected and result in passengers suffering concussions or upper limb injuries.
Which Injuries are You Likely to Sustain as a Result of a Defective Airbag?
Injuries caused by a defective airbag may affect your upper body section, which includes organs such as the head, neck, and chest. The sustained injuries may be distinguished based on the defects on an airbag. Discussed below are these injuries in detail:
- Upper Limb Injuries
Your forearms and shoulders have the highest chances of sustaining injuries from a defective airbag installed in a motor vehicle. They may dislocate due to the frontal impact caused by a car crash when an airbag fails to work. You may also suffer fractures in your upper limb from frontal impact.
- Chest and Abdomen Injuries
One misconception about airbag injuries is that they are less likely to occur to the chest and abdomen. An airbag with design or manufacturing defects may expose your chest to cardiac rupture. Your chest and abdomen may also suffer heart valve injury, aortic transection, bilateral pneumothorax, and rib fractures.
- Head and Neck Injuries
Your head and neck are at a high risk of getting injured when in contact with a car’s steering wheel. One of the reasons you should have an airbag installed is to offer the bony elements of your skull greater protection against sudden impact with the steering wheel. A defective one may fail to properly inflate and expose your head and neck to injuries.
Head and neck injuries may include cervical spine fractures, facial trauma, decapitation, and temporomandibular joint injury. You are also likely to suffer soft tissue injuries, including vascular cognitive impairment from the accident. Chemicals found in an inflated airbag may cause eye complications too. Other eye injuries you can sustain include retinal detachment, orbital fractures, and lens rupture.
How are Claims for Defective Airbags Analyzed in Florida?
Florida courts employ either the product liability theory or the negligence theory to analyze facts surrounding a defective product claim. Using the product liability theory, you (the plaintiff) will have to prove, through your lawyer, that the airbag was defective. For the negligence theory, the court will expect you to prove negligence on the manufacturer’s side.
The Negligence Theory
Chapter 768 of the Florida Statutes sheds light on negligence laws. Under this chapter, you (the plaintiff) are required to show that the airbag manufacturer (the respondent) committed a tort against you. You will have to refer to the elements of negligence that help form your case. The elements include an owed duty of care, breached duty of care, the breach resulted in your injury and proven suffering.
The State of Florida is among the few US states that adopt the “pure comparative negligence” theory. The theory suggests that you can recover damages for any losses suffered even if you are 99 percent at fault for the events leading to the accident. In this case, you will recover one percent of the damages.
The Product Liability Theory
Product liability, in the context of a defective airbag, can be split into various categories. They include failure to warn, design defects and manufacturing defects. Manufacturers are supposed to include warnings or instructions to inform the users about safety practices. Airbag manufacturers are liable for any injuries that users suffer since lack of warnings/instructions can make an airbag harmful to their targeted users.
Design defects, which may occur when a product is in its design phase, can make an airbag fail to perform safely as users expected. The deformities will still expose you to various injuries even when the airbag was installed properly in a car. An airbag may have manufacturing defects, which stem from its production phase. It is possible for a product to suffer manufacturing defects even if it was safely designed.
Florida’s statute of limitations for defective product claim (product liability claims) is four years starting from the date you sustained an injury. Additional time for filing this claim may be allowed if the airbag had a longer warranty or your injury took a while to manifest. You can recover both compensatory and punitive damages from a product liability lawsuit. The punitive damages are limited to $0.5 million or three times the value of the awarded compensatory damages.
Can You Sue the Airbag Manufacturer on the Basis of the Product Warranty?
Since airbags come with a sort of guarantee or warranty in writing, you can base your defective airbag claim on the fact that the defect breached that warranty. The express warranty for an airbag may be stated or written in the manual or other documents that came with the product. If the airbag did not have a written warranty, it is still subject to an implied warranty.
An implied warranty automatically applies to products whether the merchant or manufacturer issued an express warranty to the users. The warranty may apply to the airbag installed in your car depending on the factors surrounding its purchase. For an implied merchantability warranty, you are guaranteed that the airbag is fit as a safety car device. Any design or manufacturing defects in the product can make the manufacturer liable for breaching this guarantee.
How Do You Prove a Defective Airbag Claim in Florida?
As the victim of a car accident caused by a defective airbag, you are entitled to filing a defective product liability claim against the manufacturer. You have to familiarize yourself with the law required to help you prove your claim. Understanding the basics of this law is important in determining whether your lawsuit is valid or not. You will have to prove your injuries and suffered losses, the airbag defects and ways the defective airbag caused your injury as follows:
You Used the Product as Intended
Airbag systems are designed to inflate themselves and minimize your exposure to injuries in car crashes. However, manufacturers usually give safety precautions for drivers to observe. While you may sustain injuries from a car accident caused by airbag defects, your injuries may worsen if you fail to observe these safety precautions. They may include:
- Wearing a seat belt as a driver or passenger
- Adjusting the steering wheel to the recommended setting
- Understanding the safety features of your car
- Placing children of any age at the back seat when cruising with them
The Airbag Was Defective
Since an airbag works like a system, design and manufacturing defects may be present in any part of the system. The system comprises a connection coil, wiring harness, and an airbag inflator among others. You can have a mechanical engineer inspect your vehicle to determine the root of the defects.
The Defective Airbag Exposed You to an Injury
Car accident injuries usually stem from factors such as drunk driving, traffic law violation, and mechanical failures. Your claim will not be valid unless you specifically demonstrate how the defective airbag caused your injury. For instance, if you suffered head and neck injuries, you may argue that you hit your head on the steering wheel when the airbag system failed to deploy.
You Sustained Injuries or Suffered Various Losses
Without proof of monetary loss or an actual injury, your product liability claim against an airbag manufacturer may be invalid. You will need to give proof for the sustained injury. The evidence may be in the form of X-ray scan reports or any other medical examination reports. For your losses, you will have to give evidence showing the economic damages you suffered. The evidence may include receipts for treatment services and statements proving lost wages.
Which Type of Damages Can You Recover From a Defective Airbag Lawsuit?
Damages refer to the money paid to plaintiffs in compensation for a loss or injury in a lawsuit. They may also be paid to the plaintiff as a way of punishing a defendant for acting negligently or recklessly. Though various types of damages exist, courts usually reduce them to a single dollar amount. The two classes for damages in a defective airbag suit include compensatory and punitive damages as explained below:
Compensatory damage is a legal term for the sum of money compensated to injury victims. They are meant to help restore the victim’s condition or help him/her cope with losses and injuries. You can recover compensatory damages, which are equal to the value of your injury, from a defective airbag lawsuit. They may be recovered as either economic or non-economic damages.
For economic losses, you will be seeking reimbursement on the property or money lost because of an injury you sustained. Examples of economic losses include property loss or repairs, lost wages (or profits), disability cost and medical expenses. An airbag system with defects may damage parts of your car making it necessary to seek compensation for property loss. The defects may also result in a car crash making you sustain injuries, lose wages and incur medical bills in the process.
Non-economic losses, under Florida Statute 766.118, are difficult to quantify since they do not directly affect your financial status. Examples include pain and suffering and loss of consortium (loss of affection, emotional support or companionship). Sustaining head, neck or upper limb injuries from a car crash caused by a defective airbag might leave you in pain or anguish. You may also lose the ability to enjoy life normally thus the need for compensation.
Rather than compensating you for your losses or injuries, punitive damages help punish the party that is responsible for them. You can seek these damages depending on the actual losses or injuries you suffered. Unlike most states, Florida allows plaintiffs in personal injury cases to recover punitive damages.
Your claim for punitive damages can only be accepted if you meet conditions defined under FL Statute 768.72. In this case, a Florida court will mandate you to give reasonable proof for the recovery of punitive damages. Your lawyer will have to present clear evidence highlighting the gross negligence of the airbag manufacturer. Your attorney may also argue that the manufacturer intentionally released airbags with design or manufacturing defects.
Seek Help Filing a Defective Airbag Claim Near Me
The design and manufacturing defects in an airbag system installed in a car prove to be a threat to drivers and passengers' safety. Car crashes stemming from these defects may leave you suffering impairment or financial burdens. Our goal at the Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney is to help you find a sort of relief for your losses and sustained injuries.