The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard regulations mandate that all cars in the United States contain airbags. Although manufacturers design airbags for vehicle occupant protection, airbags can also cause serious injury and death.
How Airbags Work
An airbag is made from light fabric. When fully inflated, the driver’s airbag is approximately the size of a large beach ball and the passenger’s airbag is usually much larger. Theyinflate with more than 1,200 pounds of force and at speeds that can exceed 230 miles per hour.
Airbags are connected to a crash sensor, which triggers airbag deployment if the car gets into a sufficiently severe crash.An airbag deploys in about 1/20th of a second, which is why the airbag comes out of the steering wheel or dashboard so fast.
There are two types of airbags that are currently used in today’s vehicles:
- Frontal Airbags: Also referred to as “depowered” airbags, this product has been standard equipment in all passenger cars since model year 1998 and all SUVs, pickup trucks and vans since model year 1999.
During moderate to severe frontal crashes, these devices inflate to prevent passengers from hitting the interior of the vehicle. However, negligent design causes late or unnecessary deployment, which has resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries.
- Side-Impact Airbags (SABs): Inflatable devices designed to help protect your head and chest in the event of a serious side-impact collision. SABs differ from frontal airbags in that they stay inflated for several seconds during the collision (for additional protection).
Chest SABs are mounted in the side of the seat or in the door and are designed to help protect an adult’s chest in a serious side-impact collision. Head SABs are usually mounted on the roof rail above the side windows and are designed to help protect an adult’s head in a side-impact collision. Negligent design causes late or unnecessary deployment with SABs as well, resulting in serious injuries.
With such force and rapid deployment, late or unnecessary airbag ignition can be devastating and lethal. In fact, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 175 fatalities due to airbag deployment between 1990 and 2000.Of those 175, 104 were children.
Proving Your Case
To succeed on a negligent design case against a manufacturer, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) the product was being used in the manner intended by the manufacturer; (2) the injured party would not have discovered the defect by use of reasonable care; and (3) that the person injured could not have otherwise avoided the injury or damage. Codling v Paglia 32 N.Y.2d 330 (1973)
For the first prong, the plaintiff need not show a specific flaw; rather, it is sufficient to infer a defect if the product did not function as intended. Winckel v Atlantic Rentals & Sales 159 A.D.2d 127 (App. Div. 1993)..An airbag is designed to protect vehicle occupants, not injure them. As such, an injury due to late or unnecessary airbag deployment would satisfy this prong.
For the second prong, car manufacturers design vehicles so that airbags are held in panels that are not to be opened, which allows for airbag deployment in the event of a crash. Therefore, in almost all situations, an injured party using reasonable care would not have discovered an airbag defect prior to an accident.
For the third prong, a victim must demonstrate that the injury is due solely to thenegligent design of the airbag. If the victim would have suffered the same injuries without the airbag, i.e. injury due to the collision, then the airbag manufacturer would not be liable for injuries.McEneaney v Haywood, 179 Misc 2d 1035, 1037 (1999).
In sum, proving your negligent design case against the airbag manufacturer entails demonstrating that the airbag did not function properly, you would not otherwise have discovered an airbag defect, and you would not have been suffered injury but for the airbag.
If you or someone you know has been injured by an airbag, get in touch with us immediately. Know your rights and make sure that you recover your losses. Contact the New York vehicle accident attorneys of Schwartzapfel Lawyers, P.C.at 516.806.6403 or fill out the online contact form for immediate attention to your case.