Dangers of seatback failures & Liability of Auto Manufacturers for Injuries or Death in Georgia

Seats are a critical part of a vehicle’s restraint system. When properly designed as part of a safety system, they can save lives during a crash. Unfortunately, many car manufacturers install poorly designed car seats in the vehicles that they make.

When these vehicles are struck from the rear, the seatbacks can collapse backward, causing serious or permanent injuries to the backseat passengers and the people whose seats have collapsed.

This problem is so rife that an investigative report by CBS News revealed that about 100 people have been severely injured or killed in alleged seatback failures in the past 30 years.

Sadly, most of the victims are children.

The problem is that many manufacturers only design car seats with seatbacks that meet only the minimum requirements of federal regulations. While a few companies do install seats with sturdy, strong designs, other companies try to save on the expense by installing poorly made seats that are prone to collapse in an accident.

Government regulation has not been enough to cater to the menace. In fact, CBS found that seatback safety standards are extremely low. In fact, the government has not updated the standards since 1967. Vehicle users who have suffered from seatback collapse over the years have only been able to get redress through the courts.

The courts have held in various cases that auto manufacturers with poorly designed seats are liable under general product liability, negligence, and duty of care laws.

It is therefore important to understand how seatback failures occur and the likely injuries that may result from such occurrence. And in case you need to seek redress, you need to be aware of the basic elements of product liability laws that might help your case.

What is a Seatback Failure?

The seatback is the upright portion of the car seat. In most passenger cars, the front seats are the only ones that have them. Some SUVs and vans have back seats that also contain an upright portion.

Seatbacks can be adjusted by drivers and passengers for comfort. They are also there to reduce the momentum those sitting in these seats experience if there is a crash. This should keep them safer and minimize the chances of a serious injury. But the exact opposite of this occurs when seatbacks fail.

Seatback failures happen when the force of a collision causes the upright portion of the seat to collapse backward. When this happens, the seatback can land on top of one of the back seats, crushing whomever or whatever is situated there.

If there are passengers in the back seats, these seat occupants can be seriously injured. And if one of the rear seat occupants happens to be a child, there is also a risk of them getting trapped underneath that collapsed seatback.

Seatback failures can also cause other severe injuries such as skull fractures, thoracic injuries, facial fractures, permanent traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, paralysis, neck and back injuries, or amputations. In some cases, it leads to death. These injuries can be devastating, leaving victims and families with lifelong deformities that impact their lives permanently.

Liability of Auto Manufacturers

The product liability laws in Georgia require that automakers exercise reasonable care to maximize the crashworthiness of the cars they produce. The duty to design and build crash-worthy vehicles arises because it is foreseeable that any given motor vehicle will be involved in some type of accident, and that such accidents pose a substantial risk of death and injury to the driver and passengers.

The auto manufacturer has the legal obligation to design and make vehicles as safe as reasonably possible for the occupants who will be exposed to the forces and circumstances known to occur during most crash sequences. In many instances, seatback failures stem from inadequate crash testing or poor design.

To prove that a vehicle is not crash-worthy, you will need to establish some facts. First, that the vehicle was not designed to absorb and dissipate forces of impact. Second, that the car cannot maintain the integrity of the occupant compartment. Third, that the car did not provide adequate occupant restraint to prevent occupant ejection. You might also need expert evidence. It is important to hire a personal injury attorney.

Several automobile manufacturers have recalled vehicles because of faulty seats and seatbacks. In 2019, Ford recalled 550,000 trucks and SUVs because of defective seatbacks. Honda also recalled about 800,000 vehicles in 2018 because a defect could cause the seats to tip forward. Several other auto manufacturers have recalled vehicles for seatback defects and failures.

Auto manufacturers who did not recall defective vehicles have had to pay huge sums in damages. In Feb. 2020, a Wisconsin man was awarded a $38.1 verdict in a case against Hyundai. In 2015, the man was rear-ended by a 17-year-old girl. His seatback collapsed, and a pole inside of it severed his spinal column. The man suffered paralysis.

While Hyundai argued that his injuries were caused by the rear-end accident, the man’s lawyer argued that his injuries were caused by the defect in the seatback. The jury agreed and returned the verdict in the man’s favor.

In another case, a Texas family was awarded $242 million in 2018. This was after their two children, ages three and five, both suffered permanent brain damage following dual seatback collapses. The family was rear-ended in their Lexus by a driver who was traveling at 45 miles per hour.

The force of the collision caused both parents’ seats to recline, forcing the parents to impact the children with their heads. The judge subsequently reduced the verdict to $209 million. There are several other cases where the courts have awarded millions in compensation to families.

Safeguarding your claim

The cases above all point to the fact that if you have been seriously injured in an accident because of a collapsing seatback or have lost a loved one in this type of wreck, you have grounds to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the car manufacturer.

However, it is critical that someone immediately secure the damaged vehicle in which the injured occupant was traveling at the time of the accident. It is almost impossible to determine whether there is a viable automotive product liability claim if the damaged vehicle and all of its parts are not available to be inspected and analyzed by automotive engineers or accident reconstruction experts.

Also, any other potentially relevant physical evidence should be gathered immediately. You should have detailed photographs and/or videotapes of the scene of the accident or any other vehicles involved in the accident.

All of this is best done by or under the supervision of an experienced auto accident lawyer. Thus, it may be advisable to retain a Georgia auto defect lawyer very soon after a serious motor vehicle accident takes place.

Take away

Seatback failures do not happen as often as many other types of vehicle failings. But these statistics do not matter if it happens to you or someone you are close to. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident due to a seat back collapse, you could be eligible to seek compensation for your injuries from the auto manufacturer.

Do not hesitate to call on a full-service Georgia personal injury law firm. Contact our team to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.

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