Since the 1970s, vehicle airbags have improved passenger safety. When a crash occurs, they prevent or minimize injuries, but what happens when they fail? What do you do if your airbag did not deploy in an accident? If airbags caused or contributed to your injuries, you should never deal with a manufacturer or insurer on your own. Before you consider discussing your case with anyone, consult with a product liability lawyer as soon as possible.
Malfunctioning airbags add a layer of complexity to an already complicated situation. A severe accident becomes a hybrid event involving a potentially negligent driver and a negligent product designer or manufacturer. Each of these types of cases involves distinct legal issues and liability guidelines.
Insurers and manufacturers realize that you might not understand the relevant legal issues. They rely on your information disconnect when reviewing, evaluating, and settling your injury claim. You need a personal injury attorney with the dedication and diligence to consider negligence and product liability issues when handling your claim.
Why Airbags Do Not Always Deploy In an Accident?
Over the past several years, Japanese manufacturer, Takata, heightened America’s awareness of defective airbags.
With 67 million-plus recalled vehicles, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Takata Airbag Consumer Fact Sheet describes the problem as "one of the largest and most complex recalls in U.S. history." The NHTSA has documented incidents involving airbag explosions with metal projectiles, underinflation, and slow deployment during a crash.
Sadly, the Takata recall is just one aspect of the airbag problem. Motorists and passengers also sustained injuries when airbags failed to deploy in an accident. NHTSA has determined that non-deployment incidents occur for several reasons.
Counterfeit airbags often malfunction and do not deploy. The NHTSA estimates that the fake airbag problem affects less than 0.1 percent of cars and trucks in the U.S. Based on recent registration statistics totaling 284 million vehicles, this problem potentially affects 284,000 vehicles. Motorists sometimes receive fake airbags when a non-dealer shop replaces them. Some vehicle owners have received counterfeit airbags after ordering replacements from eBay.
The Previous Owner Did Not Replace Them
Airbags have a simple life expectancy. The NHTSA recommends that owners replace them after a single deployment. Some airbags fail because the prior owner did not replace them when necessary. The prior owner and/or the used car dealer share responsibility when a previously-deployed airbag fails.
Airbag Deactivation Defect
Some airbags deactivate when they detect a small-sized person sitting in the passenger’s seat. If the airbag does not deploy when a full-sized adult is in the seat, it is a sign of a potential defect.
The Crash Is Not Severe Enough
Unless a crash is moderate to severe, airbags do not deploy.
Airbag Malfunctions Occur When You Need Them Most
Recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistics explains how airbags consistently save lives. Frontal airbags reduce front impact driver fatalities by 29 and adult passenger fatalities by 32 percent. Side airbags reduce driver side-impact fatalities by 37 percent. As a vehicle occupant, you rely on front and side airbags to help keep you and your passengers safe. When they fail, they deprive you of critical passive protection.
Manufacturers design airbags for deployment during moderate to severe crashes. That is when serious injuries occur most frequently, but an airbag usually changes this dynamic. When a crash occurs, your airbag inflates and deploys instantaneously. Once deployed, it restricts your body’s movement and provides a protective barrier between you and your car.
Frontal airbags protect you and your passengers from steering wheel, dashboard, and windshield impacts. Side airbags minimize the risk of injury due to metal intrusion, broken glass, and other side-impact hazards. Both protect you from objects in your vehicle that become airborne during a crash.
While airbags do not prevent all injuries, they minimize the potential for severe and catastrophic upper body and head trauma. Seatbelts hold you in place when a deployment fails, but they provide only limited protection from other hazards.
What Should You Do if an Airbag Did Not Deploy In Accident?
You deal with multiple issues simultaneously when you sustain injuries in a vehicle accident. If your accident involves a defective airbag, the complications increase. When you work with a personal injury lawyer, they handle many post-accident issues on your behalf. Unfortunately, you must often take action before you arrange a legal consultation. As you interact with others, you must avoid saying or doing anything that jeopardizes your property damage and injury lawsuits.
Before you leave an accident scene, you often communicate with a 911 dispatcher, a negligent driver, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and ambulance operators. If you seek emergency treatment, you deal with doctors, nurses, X-ray technicians, medical assistants, and pharmacists. Liability insurers, investigators, and auto appraisers contact you for information so they can set timely claim reserves.
These and other people reach out to you when you are hospitalized, convalescing at home, or wherever they find you. As you cannot avoid many of these interactions before you talk to an attorney, you must understand the necessary steps for protecting your legal rights.
Contact your local law enforcement authorities immediately when an accident injures you. Most jurisdictions require that drivers file an accident report when someone sustains injuries. To avoid treatment delays, tell the 911 operator that you also need emergency medical assistance.
Do Not Admit Fault to Anyone
Never tell the other driver, bystanders, witnesses, or anyone else that you think you caused the accident. Also, never apologize. An apology often sounds like you are admitting fault.
This is important because:
- Legal tradition recognizes a statement as truthful when you make it immediately following a traumatic event. These urgent statements often come back to haunt you during settlement negotiations, depositions, and trials.
- Never speculate about negligence or fault. Like many drivers, you will not recognize or understand many of the legal issues you encounter. Leave liability analysis and decision-making to insurance companies, attorneys, judges, and juries. They reach conclusions about liability after reviewing the evidence and evaluating the legal issues, including those involving your defective airbag.
- Police officers document available evidence. This includes factual data about the scene, vehicles, witnesses, and drivers’ versions. If you say you are at fault, your statement becomes evidence that a police officer includes in their report.
If Possible, Document Evidence at the Scene
When an accident occurs, the scene begins an immediate transformation. By the time a law enforcement officer arrives, drivers move their vehicles. Witnesses leave the area. Lighting and weather conditions change. While you are waiting for the police, you have a unique opportunity. You can document the post-accident environment before it changes.
If you are physically up to the challenge, begin documenting the accident scene immediately. Your actions help preserve critical evidence. You also provide a framework for your lawyer’s investigation.
When you conduct your own site investigation, you often document vital information. Your smartphone is the perfect tool for creating a timely record with photographs, notes, and audio recordings.
If you cannot move or are in pain, ask someone for assistance in accomplishing these tasks.
- Vehicles: Take interior photos that document your vehicle’s failed airbag deployment. Also, get photos of both vehicle exteriors. Include points of impact, post-accident resting places, old and new damage, license plates, and vehicle makes and models.
- Scene: Photographthe overall scene. Include traffic control devices, stop signs, intersecting streets, street signs, landmarks, pavement, lighting and weather conditions, etc.
- Driver: Avoid discussions about fault when you talk to the other driver. You will not resolve any liability issues at the scene. Take a photo of their driver’s license. (In most jurisdictions, a driver must show you their license.) Verify their current address, insurance information, and vehicle ownership. Obtain the names of any occupants in the other vehicle and document their injuries, if any.
- Witnesses: Witnesses do not always stick around after an accident. Sometimes they do not like talking to police officers, but they might talk to you. Ask bystanders if they witnessed your accident. If they did, ask for their contact information for your insurance company and your attorney.
Provide Facts, Not Opinions
When an officer asks questions at an accident scene, do not offer opinions, just facts. Police reports usually follow a format that captures relevant, factual data. Officers sometimes give opinions on contributing factors but usually focus on documenting available evidence.
When an officer talks to you, provide facts only, such as:
- The light was green.
- The pavement was wet.
- I applied the brakes when I saw the other car.
- I was traveling 25 miles per hour.
- My head hit the steering wheel.
- My airbag did not work.
Consult a Lawyer as Soon as Possible
If you are recovering from serious injuries, you will not necessarily feel like contacting an attorney, but you should not delay. Accidents that involve airbag defects require immediate, focused attention.
When an attorney agrees to handle your claim, they begin providing several essential legal services that help move your case forward.
- Obtain your version of the accident
- Investigate before evidence disappears
- When appropriate, intervene with auto and product liability insurers, self-insured corporations, and their investigators
- Work with experts who test and evaluate your airbag and provide an opinion about its defect
- Obtain your medical bills, hospital records, treatment documentation, and narrative reports
- Evaluate your injury claim
- Review your case with you and explain potential legal and settlement options
- Negotiate a settlement or determine if litigation is the best course of action
- Track your statute of limitations, so you do not lose your right to seek damages
Personal injury attorneys provide these and many other services throughout the life of your claim. When they handle your case, they follow contingency billing practices that comply with American Bar Association Rule 1.5: Fees. They only send you a bill for their legal fees after they conclude your case.
Talk to a Lawyer Before You Deal With Claim Investigators
Insurance investigators want to talk to you when you sustain injuries in an accident. Each person that contacts you has a different mission. Before you talk to anyone, discuss your accident with a personal injury lawyer. In most instances, attorneys intervene with liability carriers and investigators on your behalf. They also help you avoid saying the wrong thing when you talk to your insurer.
Your Auto Insurance Company’s Investigator
Your auto policy mandates that you provide whatever information your insurer requests. They need your version as they assess your potential liability for the other driver’s injuries and property damage. Your insurer also evaluates and sets reserves for any claims covered by your auto insurance policy.
Insurance investigators often obtain your accident version in a recorded statement. Each question an investigator asks has a specific purpose. Your responses help them pin down legal issues related to driver negligence and product defects. If a defective airbag contributed to your injuries, they want details on how the defect caused your injuries and why you believe it is defective.
Your auto insurer will not usually pay for your injuries unless you have these specific coverages.
- Medical Payments Coverage: This coverage pays incurred accident-related medical bills up to a specified limit.
- Personal Injury Protection Coverage: PIP coverage applies in no-fault states only. It pays medical bills, expenses, and a percentage of your wages.
- Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage: If you have UM/UIM coverage, your insurer pays a settlement if the driver who causes your injuries has no auto liability insurance. If a defective airbag contributed significantly to your injuries, your insurer decides if and how your UM or UIM coverage applies.
Your Insurer’s Auto Appraiser
Before you authorize an appraisal or repairs, talk to your attorney about plans for testing your airbag. When a defective airbag causes injuries, your vehicle becomes critical evidence for proving your case. Until your attorney’s expert evaluates the defect, you must protect your airbag from inadvertent disassembly or destruction. In some cases, you must delay repairs while your attorney locates and engages an appropriate expert.
If you have collision coverage, your insurer’s appraiser must evaluate the damage. They inspect your vehicle and determine if it is repairable or a total loss. This does not usually cause problems unless your body shop breaks down your vehicle to initiate repairs or help your appraiser inspect any hidden damage. If the shop disassembles your airbag, an expert often has difficulty confirming a defect.
Auto Liability Insurance Investigators
Liability insurers pay for property damage and injuries due to their insured’s negligence. They usually want the same information your insurance carrier wants but for different reasons. They look for information that helps them defend their insured against your liability claims. If they learn that a vehicle defect contributed to your injuries, they use it as a negotiation tool for reducing your settlement.
You do not have to talk to a negligent party’s insurer or their attorneys during the informal investigative stages. When you work with a personal injury attorney, they usually interact with liability investigators and attorneys on your behalf.
Product Liability Investigators
When your accident involves an allegedly defective airbag, you eventually deal with a product liability investigator. Some work for commercial insurance companies and often have years of investigative experience. Others work for independent investigation services or self-insured industries, corporations, or manufacturers.
Self-insured entities pay their claims and often run their claim operations. They usually have years of experience and data that help them dispute claims and defend product defect cases.
Product liability investigators employ some of the same investigative strategies as auto liability investigators. As product cases often involve different laws and legal standards of proof, cases often require more in-depth documentation. As your car and its airbag assembly is a critical investigative resource, product liability insurers, manufacturers, and investigators do their best to acquire it.
Do Not Let Anyone Have Access to Your Car
Once an airbag manufacturer or its representatives obtains your vehicle, they usually turn it over to an expert favorable to their position. Sometimes defense experts perform destructive testing. This often involves disassembling your airbag and its components. Even if they cannot disprove a defect, destructive tests often render future tests ineffective and invalid.
Of course, defense representatives will not explain this to you. They simply ask if they can take your vehicle for testing. As it is your car, you have a legal right to say “No.” Talk to your attorneys about testing your defective airbags and make any arrangements through them.
Do You Need an Attorney If Your Airbag Did Not Deploy in An Accident?
When you sustain serious injuries in an accident, a personal injury attorney works hard to protect your legal rights. This is particularly important when your case involves a defective product and complex liability issues. When you consult an personal injury attorney, they take immediate action for you. They can discuss your case and review your legal options with you. You decide if and when you want to file a claim for your injuries. Contact us to start you consultation!