Bodily Injuries Caused by Malfunctioning Airbag Systems

There is no doubt that advances in automobile design, both in terms of vehicle performance as well as passenger safety, have made our roadways a better and safer place over the last 30 or so years. Building on the basic two-point safety belts of the ‘50s and ‘60s, drivers and passengers alike have benefited from improvements and upgrades to passenger safety devices in modern automobiles.

As personal injury lawyers who represent victims of highway accidents, the legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, is well aware of the benefits that seatbelts and other safety devices provide the occupants of passenger sedans, sport utility vehicles, compact cars and minivans. In fact, we know that without the myriad of occupant safety equipment designed into most every production automobile and light truck, the number of traffic-related injuries and deaths would be much higher than they currently are.

Aside from those indispensable three-point safety harnesses found in every modern car and truck, the one single safety device that has protected more people from serious or fatal injury is the now well-known automotive airbag supplemental restraint system (SRS). When combined with conscientious seatbelt use, these passive safety devices work well in saving lives and reducing serious injuries among drivers and passengers.

The operation of the typical airbag SRS system is fairly simple. Employing a number of subcomponents -- including a central airbag control unit (ACU), impact sensors, accelerometers, brake pedal pressure sensor, side pressure sensors, wheel speed sensors, and seat occupancy sensors, among others -- the system monitors for any impact due to a collision with another vehicle or stationary object, and calculates the angle of impact, severity of the impact and other critical data.

Depending on the outcome of these near instantaneous calculations, the ACU may act to deploy the vehicle’s airbags as needed, as well as other additional restraint devices, such as seat belt pre-tensioners. In only a few milliseconds, the airbags and other devices operate to restrain the passengers and protect them from impacting the vehicle’s hard interior surfaces.

In a typical airbag SRS system, the decision to deploy the airbags during a frontal crash is accomplished within 15 to 30 milliseconds (ms) following the initial onset of the collision. Both front airbags (the driver’s and passenger’s) reach full inflation within about 60-80ms from the initial sensing of an impact. The design of these systems must be exact since the delayed deployment or too slow the inflation of the airbags can result in an increased risk of injury to the occupants.

When airbags work properly, they can save lives. However, as personal injury experts, Lebowitz & Mzhen are aware that defects in design and manufacturing of certain automotive components can spell danger to vehicle occupants depending on the circumstances. The same is true of airbag systems, which have been known to cause injuries due to non-deployment or unexpected operation.

Airbags have been shown to reduce driver fatalities by an estimated 10 percent over safety belts alone. They do this by adding an additional level of protection for the driver and front-seat passenger. But, if an airbag fails to deploy, or does not inflate correctly during a moderate to severe automobile accident, injuries to the front-seat occupants can be far more severe than if the airbag system had worked as intended.

In some instances, the complete failure of an airbag during a frontal impact crash can prove fatal. These airbag functional problems can sometimes be traced to one of several potential issues, some of which can include faulty sensor operation or corroded contacts and control circuitry. While so-called “failure to deploy" problems can cause obvious consequences for the occupants of a motor vehicle, injuries can also result from unexpected deployment of an airbag.

Premature deployment of a frontal airbag can pose a serious threat to the front-seat passengers of a car, truck or SUV. Picture a scenario of a motorist driving along a roadway, perhaps at 40 to 50 miles per hour and then experiencing the steering wheel-mounted airbag of his or her car suddenly inflating. The speed with which these devices must normally inflate to protect against injury in a traffic accident can be a shocking, disorienting and violent event.

A random airbag deployment can result in loss of vehicle control and a possible auto accident, depending on the circumstances, with bodily injuries occurring just like any other car crash. Even while parked, unexpected airbag operation can cause bruising and injuries to a driver or front-seat passenger’s face and upper body. It is clear that when an airbag fails to deploy or deploys unexpectedly, the risk of severe injury can occur.

As personal injury lawyers, the legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen has the skills and training to file an injury claim for victims suffering from the consequences of an airbag malfunction or other faulty automotive systems or components. A personal injury or wrongful death claim coupled with a products liability lawsuit is one avenue that victims or their families may pursue.

If you or someone you care about has been injured in a car accident where the airbag failed to inflate properly, or have been injured by unexpected airbag deployment, we urge you to contact a qualified legal professional to discuss your case. Instances where an airbag should have deployed should raise the following questions:

  • Did a manufacturing-related defect result in the failure of the airbag to deploy?
  • Did the crash occur at a sufficiently high rate of speed to justify airbag deployment?
  • Did a defect in the systems or components of your vehicle contribute to any serious injuries?

Airbag problems have been an increasingly serious safety issue over the years, and millions of vehicles have been recalled for airbag-related problems. With the potential for a variety of bodily injuries resulting from airbag malfunctions, including head and brain injuries, back, neck and spinal cord damage, not to mention injuries to eyes and other portions of the victim’s face, it is important to seek an experienced auto injury attorney to discuss one’s legal options.

The lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen have experience in representing people who have been injured or killed in car accidents, commercial truck-related collisions and motorcycle wrecks. When a serious injury or death has resulted from a defective vehicle component or part, there may be grounds for a claim. Skilled legal professionals leave no stone unturned when seeking the cause of a serious injury accident or fatal traffic collision.

We understand the Maryland legal statutes and how they apply to such cases as random airbag deployment or airbag failure. As skilled legal professionals with years of litigation experience, Lebowitz & Mzhen are committed to our clients. If you believe you have been injured as a result of a defective vehicle component, please contact our offices to schedule a free, no-obligation consult with one of our injury attorneys. You may email either Jack Lebowitz or Vadim Mzhen, or call our toll-free number at (800) 654-1949.