Collapsing Seatback Lawsuits Most consumers believe that their car seats will remain in place and protect them when they are involved in car accidents. Experts have also recommended that parents have their children ride in the backseat of their cars because it is thought to be the safest place. Unfortunately, however, many car manufacturers install poorly designed car seats in the vehicles that they make. When vehicles are struck from the rear, the seatbacks can collapse backward, causing serious injuries to the backseat passengers and the people whose seats have collapsed. 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 might have grounds to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the car manufacturer.
The collapsing seatback problem
The federal government has safety standards for car seatbacks, but the standards have not been updated in decades. In 2008, a study that was conducted by the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine found that children who are seated in backseats of vehicles that have defects in the front seats have twice the risk of being injured in an accident. Despite this and decades of litigation, the standards remain unchanged.
The problem is that many manufacturers only design car seats with seatbacks that meet only the minimum requirements of the 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. When a vehicle is hit from the rear at low or moderate speeds, the force of the collision can cause the seatback of a front-seat occupant to collapse. This can cause the person’s head to strike a backseat passenger and seriously injure him or her. Seatback collapses can also cause people to be ejected from their vehicles, and the seat can become a projectile that can further injure others.
Car seats are supposed to remain intact and upright and to withstand the forces of a collision. Seats that have defects or that have been installed improperly can fail, collapse, detach, or break, seriously injuring the people who are seated in them as well as those who are seated behind them.
Several automobile manufacturers have recalled vehicles because of faulty seats and seatbacks. Most recently, Ford recalled 550,000 trucks and SUVs because of defective seatbacks in 2019. Honda likewise recalled 800,000 vehicles in 2018 because a defect could cause the seats to tip forward. Several other manufacturers, including Toyota, Nissan, Mercury, and Audi, have recalled vehicles for seatback defects and failures.
While the problems with seatback failures have been known for decades, the federal government has still resisted making any changes. According to an investigative report that was conducted by CBS in 2016, more than 100 people were killed by seatback collapses from 1989 and 2016.
As CBS reported, a family in Texas secured a jury verdict of $124.5 million against Audi in 2016 after their seven-year-old son suffered severe injuries because of a collapsing seatback. During the wreck, the boy was seated in the backseat of the Audi behind his father when the vehicle was rear-ended. The father’s seat broke, causing him to strike his son. The boy suffered vision loss, partial paralysis, and permanent brain damage because of the accident.
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 a third case, a Dallas, Texas family was awarded $242 million in 2018 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.
All three of these cases required extensive help from experts. Seatback injury claims frequently require extensive investigations and expert testimony. In addition to these three examples, many other seatback lawsuits have been filed over the past few decades, and many more are likely to occur. Until the carmakers and the government take steps to strengthen the designs and safety of seats, serious injuries and deaths from seatback failures will continue to happen.
Importance of experts in seatback failure lawsuits
In each of these cases, the testimony of experts was critical. Experts will likely play a crucial role in future seatback failure lawsuits. These cases might involve the work of multiple experts. An accident reconstruction expert might help to figure out what led up to the accident and what occurred during it. Accident reconstruction experts rely on an analysis of speed, physics, and energy to determine the impact angle, the velocity of the vehicles, and the cause of the damages. These experts might visually reconstruct what happened with crash-test videos, diagrams, and computer models.
Engineering experts are needed to demonstrate that the seatback design was defective. The automotive industry knows that this defect exists and has done little to fix it, even though it can. An engineering expert might show that the design fix would be simple and fairly affordable, but the car manufacturer failed to implement it because of prioritizing profits. This point can be underscored by the fact that some automakers, such as BMW and Volvo, design and install seats that are sturdy and are designed to withstand impacts. Other automakers can do the same.
Types of injuries in a seatback failure accident
As these cases demonstrate, the types of injuries in accidents involving seatback failures are frequently severe or catastrophic. These types of injuries can include any of the following:
- Skull fractures
- Thoracic injuries
- Facial fractures
- Permanent traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Neck and back injuries
- Wrongful death
- Puncture injuries
These types of accidents can be particularly devastating and leave victims and families with lifelong injuries that impact their lives permanently.
Damages in a seatback failure lawsuit
Damages are monetary awards that might be recoverable in a personal injury lawsuit. However, the amounts that might be recoverable will depend on the facts of each case. Your attorney can evaluate your claim and provide you with a range of values for your potential claim. Some of the types of recoverable damages might include the following:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past loss wages and future anticipated lost wages
- Property damage
- Loss of consortium or guidance
- Funeral and burial costs in death cases
- Lost rights to an inheritance in death claims
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Disfigurement and scarring
In some cases, punitive damages might also be available. Punitive damages are monetary awards that are above any compensatory damages that are awarded and are meant to punish the defendants when they have acted outrageously.
Get help from the seatback lawyers at The Lovely Law Firm
Suffering serious injuries or losing a loved one in an accident that involved a seatback failure can be devastating. If you have been involved in this type of collision, you may have legal rights to recover compensation. Contact the personal injury lawyers at The Lovely Law Firm to schedule a free consultation by calling us at 843.839.4111.