Seatbelts are an excellent way to protect oneself and your passengers against severe injuries and death in case you get involved in an accident. A seatbelt will, for instance, prevent a person from being ejected out of a moving vehicle in case of a crash. That is why Florida has stringent laws on the use of safety belts for anyone traveling in a car or any other type of vehicle. However, the only way you can enjoy the safety of a seatbelt is if you use it.
A lot of people decline to use their seatbelts even when they are in perfect working conditions. Still, others are unable to enjoy this safety because of seatbelt failure. In case of seatbelt failure and you get injured, you are allowed by law to pursue compensation against the at-fault party. At Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney, we handle personal injury cases related to seatbelt failure to ensure that the injured find justice and the compensation they deserve.
Florida Seatbelt Laws
The state of Florida has seatbelt laws that require all drivers and passengers in all types of motorized vehicles to use safety belts. Since the law came into effect in 2009, the number of fatalities in which a person was not wearing a seatbelt has reduced considerably. This law is under Section 316.614 of Florida Statutes. With that law in place, it means that safety belts are the best safety features for all vehicles. However, they can only work if they are in use. There are many ways in which a safety belt can keep a driver or passenger safe during a car crash:
- As mentioned above, it can save you from being ejected out of the vehicle. Accidents in which the driver or a passenger is ejected out of a car are usually severe. The person who gets removed out of a vehicle sustains critical injuries, with some losing their lives in the end.
- A seatbelt can keep you from being thrown against other passengers, the windshield, or the steering wheel. Again, these can cause you more severe injuries. Many severe injuries and deaths occur in accidents when the driver or passengers are thrown against objects inside the vehicle after a crash.
- Seatbelts keep the river behind the wheel, where they can still control the vehicle. It prevents a more serious accident as it would occur if the driver lost control of the car.
Seatbelts can save lives, but only if they are used well, and every time a person is in a vehicle. Drivers and passengers must wear their lap belts around their hips and their shoulder belt across their chests. The presence of airbags in a car should not be a substitute for seatbelts.
The main reason why some people sustain severe injuries in car accidents is that they failed to use their seatbelts as required by the law. Some people will not wear a safety belt even when they know its usefulness in staying safe in the event an accident occurs. When such people suffer injuries in an accident, they are partly to blame for their injuries. It means that they may not recover all their damages even if another person was the cause of the accident.
However, there are cases of seatbelt failure, in which a person used a seatbelt, but it did not offer the protection they needed in the accident. Even though it is a rare occurrence, safety belts fail, and when they do, a driver or passenger will not enjoy the same protection, they could if the safety feature was working. Seatbelt failure can be the cause of both temporary and long-term injuries as well as maim and even death in car accidents. People who have suffered damages because of seatbelt failure have to deal with the high cost of medical treatment, loss of wages, and inability to pay their bills as well as psychological trauma and a general decline of their wellbeing.
Most of these victims do not know that they have legal recourse and can pursue compensation for all their damages. The good thing is that the law is always on their side, and it can be used to bring the responsible parties to justice, deal with the intimidating insurance providers, and grant them the compensation request they desire to get back on their feet.
Typically, any person in the state of Florida who has suffered injuries because of a faulty seatbelt is allowed to bring a lawsuit against the person who was responsible for the seatbelt failure. There are many causes of seatbelt failures and a wide range of injuries that could result from such faults. The cause of the failure is what will help the plaintiff and his/her legal team to determine the at-fault party, which should be held responsible for all their injuries.
If, therefore, you believe that the reason for your injuries is because of false latching, or a seatbelt that unlocked after the crash, you can file a suit against the responsible party. The same thing applies to a person who got hurt because their safety belt ripped or tore off during the crash. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine the actual cause of the seatbelt failure to help you build a strong case against the responsible party.
Who Can Be Liable in a Seatbelt Failure Lawsuit?
When a seatbelt failed or malfunctioned during an accident, a person may be lost on who they should sue. A failed or malfunctioned belt is one that does not offer the protection it is designed to provide, resulting in injuries. When that happens, responsibility has to fall on a party or parties. While most cases fall on the manufacturer of the defective safety feature, other cases can see fault falling on so many different parties. The responsible party will be easy to determine, subject to the situation at hand. Responsibility could either fall on the automaker, seatbelt manufacturer, or other parties.
Here are certain factors that could help your attorney and other liability experts establish fault:
- If the defects and flaws were in the seatbelt design - In that case, responsibility will fall on the seatbelt manufacturer.
- If the manufacturing resources for the seatbelts were subpar - The seatbelt manufacturer will still be at fault in this case
- If the seatbelts were not properly tested for safety - In this case, the blame will fall on the person responsible for vehicle maintenance.
Any of these reasons could be a good ground for product liability claims in Florida. The product manufacturer will be required to prove before a judge that they produced a product that was in excellent working condition. The manufacturer will also be expected to demonstrate that they tested their products to ensure that they were working well before distributing them out to the market. If there was an issue in any of the products, the manufacturer was expected to recall the entire batch immediately, and communicate the same to the public to warn them against using the products.
If any of those procedures were not followed, and it is established that there was a problem with the seatbelt that caused personal injuries, the manufacturer will be held responsible for all the resulting damages.
Other common types of defects and failures in seatbelts include:
- Seatbelt lock problems - A fully functional safety belt with a functioning retractor and intact webbing will still not protect you against injuries in an accident if its lock is damaged. If the seatbelt will not lock or unlock, or if it occasionally gets stuck in one position, the vehicle owner should have it repaired immediately.
- Trigger or buckle problems - A defective buckle can cause inertia unlatching of the safety belt. If that happens during the crash, the user will not be well protected, which means they could suffer severe injuries in the crash.
- Unsafe seatbelt location in the vehicle - For a safety belt to work, it must not only be in good working condition but also appropriately worn. Wearing a seatbelt improperly will put every driver and passenger at the risk of suffering severe injuries in case an accident happens. If, for instance, the safety belt is worn below your arm, it may not be effective in case of a crash, and you could suffer injuries in the same way as a person who had not worn any seatbelt.
- Seatbelt latch issues - False latching is very common, whereby the latch plate feels and sounds as if it has latched correctly, but in the real sense, it has not. In the case of any force, the buckle will ultimately release the latch plate, leaving the passenger at risk of suffering severe injuries.
- Seatbelt retractor defects - A seatbelt with a retractor problem will not work well even if it looks perfectly well. New safety belts have sensors that automatically allow the belt to hold the user snugly in position. If your seatbelt feels loose, there could be something wrong with its retractor. The same will apply if the belt pulls you tightly and will not loosen up, or it gets stuck and cannot retract. If that happens, you have an issue with the seatbelt retractor that requires immediate repair.
- Damaged seatbelt webbing - The webbing of any seatbelt should remain intact at all times. New safety belts have perfect webbing, but with time, they can weaken and fray. It leaves the user vulnerable to injuries in case of an accident. A seatbelt whose webbing is damaged is usually too weak to keep its user in place. Other than continuous and long-time use, seatbelt webbing can be damaged if it gets cut, frayed, ripped in any way, or chewed by a pet.
How to Detect a Seatbelt Failure in an Accident
If you have been in an accident, it is crucial to know the actual cause of your injuries. Some injuries occur because of something else other than the real collision, and seatbelt failure could be one of them. Establishing the actual cause of your injuries is not easy at all times. If you were wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, its effectiveness would be judged liable to the nature of the accident and injuries sustained. Some of the indications that your safety belt failed in protecting you include:
- That you were found hurt in the car with a loosely fitting seatbelt
- That you got injured and was not wearing any seatbelt though you insist that you had a safety belt on at the time of the crash
- That the safety belt you had worn is worn-out and/or with ripped webbing
- That you sustained severe injuries even though the accident was minor
- That you were seated at the front of the car and your head or body hit the windshield when the crash happened
- There are inconsistencies in the seriousness of the injuries other people in the vehicle who had worn safety belts sustained. If, for instance, one or more occupants only suffered minor injuries in the accident, but your injuries were more severe, yet you all had your safety belts on. It could be a clear indication of seatbelt failure.
If all indications point to a dysfunctional or damaged seatbelt, then you might have a valid reason to file a suit against the negligent party. Note that the negligent party, in this case, is not just the product manufacturer. Vehicle owners, especially those who own vehicles for commercial purposes, and bus companies have a legal duty to ensure that their vehicle’s seatbelts are working well at all times. This is achieved through proper installation, regular maintenance, and repair of broken safety belts. Once the cause of your injuries is determined, your attorney will help to establish the actual problem with the seatbelt that caused you the damages to determine the liable party.
After filing the case in a civil court, the plaintiff must be able to prove several facts of the accident for the court to rule in his/her favor. Some of these facts include:
- That the safety belt design was faulty, an issue that was not well addressed during the product testing process
- That there was a mistake from the manufacturing point or an error happened during the production installation
- That there was no warning about the product fault on the product itself or in the car’s user manual
If indeed the product was faulty from the manufacturing point, it shouldn’t be repaired or handed back to the manufacturer for a refund. The defective product will help the plaintiff prove to the court that indeed his/her injuries were as a result of that fault. If by any chance, you are not able to prove that there was some flaw in the way the product was designed, you may not get the compensation you deserve for your losses. Your attorney can also help you take pictures and videos of the faulty seatbelt if you are not able to obtain and retain it as evidence.
In addition to that, more evidence will be needed to prove your case against the at-fault party in a faulty seatbelt lawsuit. This evidence could be in the form of a picture showing the physical injuries you sustained in the accident. You will also need documents to prove the treatment you have already gone through and a doctor’s report on the severity of your injuries. Other evidence that could help strengthen your case includes police reports, testimonies from eyewitnesses as well as surveillance footage.
Types of Injuries from Seatbelt Failures and Defects
Generally, car accidents can be severe, sometimes fatal, and life-changing. A functional seatbelt can make a significant difference in the severity of the injuries a person will sustain in a crash, whether minor or severe. However, when there is a fault in the design or functioning of the seatbelt, the person will be injured just the same way as one who did not have any safety belt.
Injuries a person can sustain out of a defective safety belt will depend on the nature of the accident. In a severe accident, for instance, a person can even lose their life if they are thrown out of the car or against the windscreen. A driver in such an accident can even crash his/her head or upper body against the steering wheel, sustaining severe injuries or also lose his/her life. Some of the most common types of damages a person can suffer due to a defective seatbelt include:
Wrongful death: The loss of a loved one is excruciating, more so if another person’s negligence was the cause of their death. Florida laws allow close family members or estate of the departed to file a legal claim against the negligent party for the loss of their loved one. According to Section 768.19 of Florida Statutes, the family or estate of the deceased person can seek a legal remedy for the death of their loved one and compensation for all the losses that they have incurred as a result.
In such cases, though, only the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased person will be considered as close family members. In their absence, a person related to the deceased person either by blood or adoption, and one who entirely depended on the dead person for services or support may file a claim in court for compensation for their wrongful death.
Broken bones: Fractures are quite common in car accidents, and they mainly result from the power and force that is exerted on the body during a crash. Without a functional seatbelt, the person can easily be thrown against an object in or out of the car after a collision. In most cases, a person can suffer severe fractures, which are not only painful but also costly to recover. The recovery process could also be lengthy, and the person could be forced to stay in hospital or rest at home for a full recovery.
Some of the common fractures in fault safety belt cases include tibia or fibula fractures, femur fractures, rib, hip, pelvis, facial, fractures, wrist, back, and arm fractures, among others.
Traumatic brain injury: This type of injury occurs when any amount of force penetrates or fractures the human skull. The head is the most susceptible part of the body in any car accident. Without a functional seatbelt, the person is left with no amount of protection, and their brain could get bruised or start bleeding. Such injuries are not immediately visible after the injury but can manifest later, and could take a very long time to heal. More severe cases of head trauma can result in long-term complications or even death.
Paralysis: It happens when a person loses the functioning of one or a group of muscles. When this happens, the injured person loses the sensation and feeling of the affected areas. In a car accident, paralysis could occur when a person’s nerve in their spinal cord gets severely damaged. Injuries to the spinal cord can quickly happen in a crash if the seatbelt does not protect the person as it should. Paralysis is a lifelong condition that will be very expensive and debilitating to treat.
Disfigurement: A severe car accident can disfigure a person’s body in so many ways. Unlike the emotional damages that can heal over time, disfigurements are types of physical injuries that will be a constant reminder of the suffering and pain the person went through after the accident. Note that disfigurement can happen on any part of the person’s body
Find a Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Seatbelt failure is among the leading causes of severe injuries in most car accidents in Florida. Liability in most of these cases falls on seatbelt manufacturers. When filing a product liability claim, you need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. It is because the legal process can be a little intimidating, especially if you are not familiar with the procedures and requirements. At Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney, we are willing to take you through the legal process and ensure that you are getting the compensation you deserve. Call us at 904-800-7557 to enjoy quality legal help.