We go to great lengths to protect drivers and passengers while they are out on the road. In recent decades, wearing seat belts has become mandatory in nearly every state. And in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, there are laws that require children to ride in specially-designed car seats with proper restraints up until a certain age.
In Alabama, for example, children are required to ride in a booster seat until age six, although the best safety practice is for kids to continue riding in the seats until they are run around ages 8 to 10, depending on how big they are. While there has been a lot of attention paid to the safety of motorists in recent decades, there is a hidden danger that has not been properly addressed; seat back failures.
What is a Seat Back Failure?
The seat back is the upright portion of the vehicle seat. It is adjustable and can be moved forward and backward to ensure that the driver and front seat passenger are comfortable. Seat backs are there for comfort, and to reduce the momentum individuals experience during a collision, thus reducing the chances of a severe injury.
A failure can happen when the force of a vehicle collision causes the seat back to collapse backwards and land on top of one of the back seats. This can cause serious injuries to occupants of the front seat as their head and body are thrown hard against an object or person in the back seat. Seat back failures most commonly occur when the vehicle is rear-ended at a moderate to high speed.
The dangers of seat back failure injuries are worse when there are occupants in the back seat. Those riding in the back seat are often struck unexpectedly by the force of the seat back collapsing on them. Those most vulnerable to serious injury are children, particularly those who are strapped into booster seats or are secured by another type of restraint.
Some of the most common injuries that occur as a result of seat back failures include:
- Facial and head injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Fractures/broken bones
- Neck and back injuries
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis
- Amputations/loss of limbs
- Wrongful death
Low NHTSA Standards and Industry Negligence are Major Contributors to Seat Back Failures
Most of us believe, based on conventional wisdom, that the back seat is the safest place for children to ride. We base this belief largely on the assumption that there are adequate governments standards in place for seat backs, and the assumption that, by now, auto makers should be able to create seat backs that more than meet adequate safety standards. Unfortunately, a 2016 CBS investigation found that both of these assumptions are false.
It turns out that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency responsible for setting auto safety standards, has not updated its standards for front car seats since 1967. The standard is so low, in fact, that even a banquet chair would qualify. And although every vehicle produced today meets this paltry standard, a large percentage of seat backs failed in crash tests that CBS conducted.
Some of the other key findings of the CBS investigation included:
- The NHTSA has been aware of its need to update front seat safety standards since the early 1970s, but after decades of studying the issue, new standards had yet to be put in place;
- Auto makers have been aware of the potential problem of seat back failures since at least the mid-1990s;
- The cost for automakers to make front car seats safe for consumers would be minimal, “on the order of a dollar or so” according to one industry engineer.
CBS found that over 100 individuals (that we know of) have been killed or seriously injured because of seat back failures since 1989. And while this is not a huge number compared to many other vehicle defects, it makes no sense that the NHTSA would continue to take no action on this issue. Even the loss of one life is one too many, especially for something that would take minimal cost and effort to address.
It should be noted that several auto manufacturers have had recalls in recent years over seat back safety issues. These include:
Unfortunately, because the standards are so low, consumers have very little way of knowing which vehicles are safe for themselves and their children to travel in. CBS did name three automakers in their report that have been proactive and strengthened their car seats to well above government safety standards; Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Volvo.
Injured in a Seat Back Failure? Contact an Experienced Alabama Personal Injury Lawyer
Seat back failures are not the most common occurrence, but when they happen, the results can be disastrous. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed resulting from a seat back failure or any other type of auto defect, you need skilled legal counsel by your side to help ensure that you receive just compensation, and that those responsible are held fully accountable.
At M. Adam Jones and Associates, we have extensive experience representing clients who have been injured in auto accidents in Alabama. We have a successful track record with even the most complex cases, and we work closely with our clients, exploring every potential legal avenue toward obtaining full and fair compensation for their injuries.
For a free consultation with one of our seasoned Alabama personal injury attorneys, call our office today at 334-581-9238 or send us a message through our online contact form.