Airbags are designed to save lives. That is the reason why they have been part of the vehicle construction since their inception in 1990. However, they can turn out to be elements of danger if they deploy under the wrong circumstances, thereby hurting the vehicle’s occupant. In most cases, such incidents result from defective airbags. If you happen to face such an accident, you have the right to get compensated by the responsible parties.
Getting the right compensation can be tough if you try handling the situation all by yourself. For that reason, you need to seek professional legal intervention to ensure that you get the compensation that you deserve. We at The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm understand your predicament and are ready to offer the best services that you deserve. Even so, you must acquaint yourself with relevant information about your case to get the best out of our services. In this article, we will give you a detailed overview of defective airbags lawsuits in California.
Airbag Laws In California
Airbags laws fall under California Vehicle Code 27317. The code clearly outlines different aspects related to airbags. The code states the regulations as follows:
- A person should not knowingly or intentionally deal ( which includes import, reinstall, install, etc.) any component of a vehicle if it is a non-functional airbag or does not meet the federal safety requirements provided as provided by the Code of Federal Regulations 571.208
- A person should not deal with any product that can make the diagnostic system of the vehicle fail to warn that it is installed with a non-functional airbag or no airbag is installed.
- Violation of section (a) or (b) becomes a misdemeanor case and is punishable with a fine that can amount to $ 5000 or imprisonment in a county jail up to a year, or both punishments.
- No installation or reinstallation should not occur for this section unless you complete the work.
Definition of Terms Provided Under California Vehicle Code 27317
Section (e) of the vehicle code 27317 provides the meaning of the terms used in the section for the application. These explanations include:
An airbag is an inflatable restraint system device, which is part of the supplemental restraint system of the vehicle.
Counterfeit Supplemental Restraint System Component
This means a replacement supplement restraint system that includes and is not limited to an airbag that holds a substantial similarity with a genuine device from a supplier or manufacturer. For the device to satisfy its status as a counterfeit, its manufacture, sale, and distribution must not be authorized by the genuine manufacturer.
Non- functional airbag
This means a replacement airbag that matches various criteria, such as:
- Previous deployment or damage
An electrical fault that the vehicle’s airbag diagnostic system could detect after the installation procedure was completed during a repair or when transferring the vehicle’s ownership.
- An object meant to mislead the vehicle’s owner that the supplemental restraint component of the vehicle or a functional airbag was installed.
Supplemental Restraint System
This means a passive inflatable vehicle’s occupant crash protection system with the design to work together with the active restraint systems. It includes one or more airbag (s) and any other component that ensures that the airbags work as intended by the vehicle manufacturer. The definition should provide that the airbags:
- Are operational during the event of a crash
- Have the design that is under the federal motor vehicle safety standards, which are specific to the make, year, and model of the vehicle in which they are installed.
Besides the requirements and regulations provided in this code, other rules apply and are related to airbags. Some of these laws include:
● Vehicle Safety Recalls AB 287
Enacted on January 1, 2017, this law allows the DMV to recall any vehicle that has defective issues and pose a danger to its users. Under the law, consumers owning vehicles with the manufacturer recall should not loan or rent the respective vehicles within 48 hours after the notice. However, there is a limited exception for a rental company owning a fleet of 34 vehicles or more.
● Takata Airbag Recall
Based on vehicle safety recall AB 287, Takata Corporation, which is a Japanese airbag manufacturer, staged a recall in 2015 due to their faulty igniters that caused an explosion of the airbags, releasing deadly metal shrapnel. Their bags are installed in most of the vehicle brands in the market and cover various models released between 2002 through 2015. There are nearly 200 injuries and a handful of deaths linked with these types of airbags. In that case, this recall has been referred to as one of the biggest recalls in US history.
Understanding Various Concepts About Airbags
The intention of installing airbags is to prevent passengers and other occupants in a vehicle from suffering from severe injuries after an accident. Their design should prevent severe injuries in vehicles involved in an accident, whether it is a moderate or severe crash. Based on the information provided by NHTSA, a mild to a severe crash is similar to hitting a stationary object while at a speed of 8 to 14 mph or higher.
How Airbags Work
The material used in the manufacture of airbags is a light fabric. The airbag is connected to a crash sensor and deploys once the car gets into a sufficiently severe crash that resulted at a speed that is approximately 8- 14 mph.
For a severe crash, the crash sensor automatically triggers and ignites an igniter which produces gas such as argon and nitrogen that fills the airbags once they deploy. The speed of deployment is approximately 1/20th of a second. Soon after deployment, the airbag usually deflates immediately, releasing all kinds of dust and chemicals which can be irritable to the skin and eyes.
Types Of Airbags
There are a couple of airbags in any vehicle. However, they differ in numbers, size, and position based on the type of vehicle. Typically, all cars have a frontal airbag located inside the steering wheel. Here is a breakdown of all the types of airbags in a vehicle:
● The Frontal Airbag
Located inside the steering wheel and behind the panel at the passenger seat, the frontal airbag deploys to protect both the driver and the passenger from injuries during a head-on collision. It also protects them during a side impact if there is sufficient movement of the vehicle.
● Side Airbags
Their location is at the door, seat, and the frame of the door located at the front. It deploys to protect a side-impact and rollover crash.
● Rear Airbags
This kind of airbag has a specific design to protect passengers sitting at the back seats. They protect the passengers during a side impact, a rollover accident. Although they are quite useful, the NHTSA does not regulate them, but automakers have gone to the extent of making them ensure maximum safety.
● Curtain Airbags
Their mounting is on the ceiling of the vehicle. During an impact, they expand downwards, providing enough protection during an accident.
● Knee Airbags
These are supplements airbags that offer protection to the driver and the passengers sitting at the front. They protect the chest, legs, and abdomen from injuries by controlling the lower body’s movements and evenly distributing the impact of the force.
Ways That Airbags Can Be Defective
The NHTSA provides that airbags can lead to severe injuries if they deploy wrongly. During an accident, they deploy at 200mph and can be dangerous to passengers, especially children. The NHTSA has maintained that counterfeit and defective airbags can be hazardous to their consumers. Agreeably, airbags become defective when they do not operate as intended, and in the following ways:
● When They Use Excess Force
Some airbags become defective when they deploy too fast or have too much force. Since Americans have a low likelihood to wear their seatbelts, airbags designed for their vehicles deploy faster compared with their European counterparts. Therefore, a defect to such airbags can cause serious injuries, especially to drivers who love sitting near to the steering wheel or passengers who love sitting close to the dashboard.
● When They Fail To Deploy
The NHTSA maintains that safe and reliable airbags should deploy when a car hits a stationary object or car while moving at speed between 8 – 12 mph. In such an accident, the airbags should protect the vehicle occupants from causing trauma on the spinal cord. In that case, if they fail to deploy, the vehicle occupants are at risk of suffering from serious injuries of their spine.
● When They Explode
Airbags become defective if they explode during their deployment. The explosion occurs when the pump explodes when the airbags start to inflate. In the case regarding the vehicles within the Takata recall, the cheap alternative used by the company would explode during deployment. Their explosion resulted from exposure to the cheap inflators to humidity and heat for a long time. When such incidences occur, they can lead to life-threatening injuries to the victims.
Factors That Can Affect Improper Deployment Of Airbags
Improper deployment is the leading cause of injuries sustained from defective airbags. Most of these factors affect vehicles that fall from 2006 models and beyond. These factors include:
● The Seat Position
Sensors should detect the seats’ position to deploy the airbags at the right time. Therefore, if the position of the seats on the track is not in the correct position, there is a possibility of deploying them wrongly, leading to severe injuries. Also, if there are defects with the sensors, the airbags may end up deploying improperly.
● The Position and Weight Of The Occupants
The position and weight of a vehicle occupant usually affect how the airbags will deploy during an accident. In that case, the sensors should adjust to the circumstances and trigger the deployment at the right time. However, there is no foolproof when the occupant is holding a load compared with a real person’s weight.
● Inflation Volume And Tethering
The extent to which the airbags are tethered to the car’s interior determines how they will deploy. The distance of tethering is referred to as the bag’s excursion. The tethering and the level of air inflation differ from one automaker to the other. Therefore, potential deployment failures might result from a design failure or the position of the occupant to give a few examples.
● System Failure
Well-advanced sensors can go to the extent of determining whether the occupant is wearing a seatbelt, monitor the speed of the vehicle, among other capabilities. However, issues to do with system failure can lead to misunderstanding of the airbags sensors leading to unexpected deployment. Such situations can lead to fatal injuries to the affected occupants.
● The Airbag’s Material
The material used to manufacture the airbag should be lightweight and should provide enough cushioning to the occupants during an accident. Therefore, if the material is different, it might cause injuries to the people occupying the vehicle.
● The Threshold of Deployment
There might be a significant difference in the rate as to which the airbags deploy from one manufacturer to the other. For that reason, if the systems do not work as intended, they might lead to an improper deployment leading to injuries.
● The Airbag’s Deployment Angle
There are various factors related to the angle of deployment of airbags. For instance, if the bags contact an object during the deployment, they might end up deploying at a different angle. Also, depending on the angle of the wheel, the airbags might deploy slightly lower or higher than the driver’s body.
The way that the airbag is folded in its compartment determines how fast it deploys during an accident. Improper folding might lead to slow deployment, which leads to severe injuries.
Types Of Injuries Caused By Defective Airbags
The extent of injuries that one sustains from a defective airbag depends on the reason why the bags were defective. The kind of injuries that one is likely to experience range from small ones to life-threatening. Some of the common injuries include:
- Chemical burns
- Vision Impairment
- Broken bones
- Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Airbag dermatitis
- Spinal cord trauma
- Loss of limb
- Paralysis and
For a driver or any other vehicle occupant to sustain such injuries, it does not necessarily mean that the airbags must have deployed improperly. You might also sustain injuries in a proper deployment if you are not seated at least ten inches away from the steering wheel, as recommended by the NHTSA.
Liabilities In Defective Airbags Lawsuits
As a victim of defective airbags, you need to know who you should sue for the injuries. For airbag lawsuits, there are different types of malfunctioning that you can use in a claim. They include:
● Manufacturing defects
Manufacturing defects usually occur at the time of the manufacturing of the product. In most cases, it happens due to poor craft or if a low-quality material was used.
● Design Defect
If there is a design defect, this means that the entire product is defective. The flaws can be hazardous and can endanger those who consume the product.
● Failure to Warn
Every manufacturer has the obligation of warning their customers about their products to keep them safe. However, if they fail to do so, they put their clients in danger and should be liable for the injuries that their consumers sustain.
From the above considerations, it means that you can sue the manufacturer, distributor, or seller for selling defective airbags. Therefore the lawsuit falls under the product liability laws in California.
Product Liability Laws In California
Since any case filed against a manufacturer is considered as product liability, it is essential to learn about the liability laws in California. You can base your product liability lawsuit on two theories that are negligence and strict liability.
Based on negligence, you should prove that the defendant representing the airbag manufacturer company in question acted against its duty on its consumers. In this case, it might have neglected its duty on following the manufacturer regulations and using the right safety protocols, which led to the defective airbags.
On the other hand, basing your case on strict liability allows the victim to sue for the damages without necessarily proving the negligence of the manufacturer. In this case, the manufacturer becomes liable for the defective product if its defects were a result of manufacturing errors, design errors, and marketing defects.
Damages To Recover From A Defective Airbag Lawsuit
Anyone who has sustained injuries from defective airbags should recover the damages that resulted from the injuries. In California, victims for such injuries can recover both economic and non-economic damages from the lawsuit according to the liability laws.
For the economic damages, one can get compensated for injuries that are verifiable through financial losses. This includes lost wages and medical bills.
Often, injuries sustained from airbag defects can put you at personal harms that are hard to assign a financial loss. In that case, you need compensation for the non-economic damages. Examples of the non-economic damages that one can claim include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental anguish.
What you Do After Sustaining Injuries From Defective Airbags
It is recommendable for a victim to learn different steps that he or she should take after sustaining injuries from defective airbags. Here are some considerations that one should take after getting injured from the faulty airbags.
● Protect the Evidence
The attorney that you will be appointing requires to use the evidence of the airbag defects in building your case. In that case, you should hold all repairs to your vehicle until your attorney inspects the airbag and collect vital evidence needed for your case.
● Take Notes On Your Accident
You should take as many pictures and videos of the scene of your accident, especially of the airbags. Keeping this information at hand will help your attorney to build a strong case against the liable party. Even so, your attorney law firm should deploy a survey team to assess the scene and take necessary information as well.
● Record Your Injuries
It can be challenging to separate the damages and the accident when building a defective airbag case. So, it is crucial to record your injuries to maintain enough evidence against the liable party. You can record your injuries through medical bills, doctor testimonials, and pictures of the injuries at the scene of the accident.
Statute Of Limitations In Defective Airbags Lawsuits
In California, the statute of limitations for defective airbags falls under the product liability statute of limitations. The statute takes two years after the injuries that caused the negligence of the liable party. The period starts running as soon as the victim sustained injuries from the accident.
Some exceptions can lead to the extension of the mandatory timeline provided by the law. Some of the specific instances that can lead to the tolling of the statute include:
- Physical incapacitation of the injured party
- Mental incapacitation of the victim
- When the injured victim was not aware of the injuries
- When the victim did not know that the casualties were a result of the defective airbags
In case of a toll, the victim maintains the mandatory timeline when he or she discovers the injuries were as a result of the defective airbags. You should note that failure to file the case within the stipulated timeframe might lead to dismissal of the situation when presented to the court.
Find A Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
If you have sustained injuries due to defective airbags, you require the right compensation from the responsible, liable parties. It can be tough to file a case all by yourself, especially when you are nursing your injuries. Therefore, the best solution is to seek a professional law firm that understands your pain and can offer the kind of attention you need. We at The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm understand your predicament and are ready to provide the best services that suit you. Contact our experienced California personal injury attorneys today at 619-625-8707 and find someone who can resolve your situation in the best way possible.