Airbag Failure to Deploy

Car accidents are at times unexpected and happen in the blink of an eye, when the unfortunate happens we expect the built in safety features to go off.  In those cases when you suffer a greater injury because of an airbag failed deployment, is the manufacturer liable?

Airbags are one of the most important safety features in any vehicle. Frontal airbags reduce driver fatalities by 29 percent and passenger fatalities by 32 percent in frontal crashes. Having an airbag and using a seatbelt, when combined, reduce the risk of death by 61 percent (compared to 50 percent for seat belts alone). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that, as of January 2009, more than 28,000 lives had been saved by airbags.

But unfortunately, like any automotive device, airbags have the capacity to fail—and many have.

A vehicle’s airbags can fail in several ways, including:

  • Over-inflation, which causes the impact to be harder than necessary
    Sensor malfunction, causing the airbag to deploy when it doesn’t need to
    Missing tethers, which cause the airbag to reach beyond the appropriate distance and possibly into another passenger
    Late deployment, which can cause serious injuries long after the initial impact
    Unexpected deployment, which can cause serious injuries if the passengers are not prepared for impact.

If an airbag is faulty and it causes harm to someone in the car (either by deploying defectively or not deploying at all), the injured person could have a products liability case. Under products liability law, any or all parties in the chain of manufacturing for the defective airbag could be held liable for the damage caused.

 There are three core types of product liability cases:

  • Design defects: Flaw(s) in the original blueprint of a product that causes it to be unreasonably dangerous for potential users. To prove defective design, the plaintiff must show that the product was inherently flawed—therefore, even if the product was used as instructed, it would still be hazardous.
  • Manufacturing defects: A departure from a designer’s or manufacturer’s specifications for a product that makes the final product unsafe. These claims are among the easiest to prove because the product’s initial design standards will show the final product was manufactured incorrectly.
  • Marketing defects: A product is improperly labeled and does not have the proper warning labels or instructions for use. Since airbags are installed prior to reaching the consumer market, the marketing defect would most likely be found in the external warning of an airbag system. An example of a marketing defect for an airbag would be a lack of warnings/instructions about having young children in the front seat.

If you believe the airbag should have deployed and didn’t, make sure to preserve the evidence. Do not throw away the airbag or any of its parts, and do not allow the car to be junked or taken over by the insurance company. Proving an airbag malfunction is difficult, but without the car, the car’s computer, and the airbag, it becomes nearly impossible.