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Common Types of Seatbelt Injuries

Colburn Law

Seatbelts have been crucial in mitigating car accident fatalities, significantly reducing the likelihood of severe injury or death. However, in some circumstances, they can also cause serious harm themselves. Seatbelt injuries can range from superficial bruises and abrasions to more serious damage like fractures and internal organ injuries. 

Common Types of Seatbelth Injuries

The Types of Seatbelt Injuries

Although rare, seatbelt injuries can occur during high-impact crashes. The severity of these injuries largely depends on the circumstances of the accident, including the vehicle speed, the angle of impact, and the passenger’s position during the crash. 

Abdominal Injuries

During a collision, the lap portion of the seatbelt can exert excessive pressure on the abdomen. This can lead to soft tissue injuries, like bruising and contusions, or more serious injuries like abdominal aortic aneurysms and bowel perforations. Pregnant women are particularly at risk of serious injury if lots of pressure is applied to the uterus. 

Rib and Chest Injuries

The chest area, particularly the ribs, is another common site of seatbelt injuries. The force exerted by the seatbelt during a crash can result in bruised or fractured ribs. Chest injuries can also lead to complications such as pneumothorax, where air is trapped between the lung and the chest wall, causing the lung to collapse.

Shoulder Injuries

A seatbelt’s shoulder strap can exert strong pressure on the collarbone and shoulder blade, potentially causing fractures, dislocations, or soft tissue damage. Shoulder injuries can lead to chronic pain, limit your range of motion, and may require extensive rehabilitation or surgery in severe cases.

Internal Organ Injuries

Seatbelts can also cause internal organ injuries. This typically happens when the belt compresses the body’s midsection during a collision, damaging organs like the liver, spleen, or kidneys. These injuries may not show any symptoms at first, but they can be life-threatening without emergency medical attention.

How to Prevent a Seatbelt Injury

While wearing a seatbelt is mandatory for safety, proper seatbelt use is equally as important. Following these tips could help prevent a serious injury:

  • The shoulder belt should be placed across the middle of your chest and away from your neck. This helps distribute force evenly across the chest in the event of a collision.
  • To minimize the risk of internal injuries, the lap belt should be situated firmly across your hips and below your stomach, not across the abdomen.
  • Never place the shoulder strap behind your back or under your arm, as this could increase the risk of severe injuries during a crash.
  • Always adjust your seatbelt so that it fits snugly but comfortably. It should not be so tight as to cause discomfort, or so loose that it allows free movement in the seat.

How Defects Can Lead to Seatbelt Injuries

In modern vehicles, seatbelts are fundamental safety devices designed to protect occupants during car accidents. However, they can unexpectedly turn into dangerous components in an accident. 

Typically, a car crash involves two phases: the initial collision of the vehicle with another object and the subsequent movement of passengers inside the vehicle. It’s during this second phase that defects in the seatbelt’s design, manufacturing, or installation can contribute to or cause injuries.

Seatbelts can contain many types of defects that occur during their production, such as:

  • Inertial Unlatching: This defect occurs when the seatbelt unlatches itself during a crash due to excessive forces, failing to secure the passenger. Inertial unlatching can lead to severe injuries or ejection from the vehicle.
  • Poor Seatbelt Design: Design flaws can include inadequate belt length, improper fit, or placement that increases the risk of injury during a crash. Poorly designed seatbelts can cause excessive movement or even entrapment, resulting in greater harm.
  • Material or Construction Defects: Defects in the material, such as weak fibers, or in the construction, like improper stitching, can lead to the belt tearing under crash forces. These defects reduce the seatbelt’s ability to withstand the stress of an accident, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Retractor Failures: A retractor failure means the seatbelt does not remain tight against the occupant’s body during a crash, reducing its effectiveness. When the retractor fails, the seatbelt can slacken, allowing the passenger to move too much and collide with the vehicle’s interior.
  • Lap-Only Belt Designs: Lap-only belts can increase the risk of serious abdominal and spinal injuries in an accident, as they do not restrain the upper body. These designs, lacking a shoulder strap, fail to distribute crash forces evenly across the body, concentrating impact in the lower torso area.

Manufacturers also have a responsibility to warn users about the risks associated with their products. When seatbelt manufacturers fail to provide adequate warnings or instructions, the risk of injury may increase significantly. A lack of warnings about the limitations and proper use of seatbelts can lead to misuse or a false sense of security among vehicle occupants. 

Compensation May Be Available in a Defective Seatbelt Claim

Victims of accidents involving defective seatbelts may be entitled to compensation through a product liability claim. This type of lawsuit is based on the premise that manufacturers, distributors, or retailers can be held responsible for releasing a product that is unsafe for its intended use. As a result, victims who have been injured by these defects can hold the manufacturer liable for the losses that they suffered.

By filing a defective seatbelt claim, victims can recover compensation for several types of damages, such as:

  • Medical Bills: Compensation for medical bills includes all expenses related to the treatment of injuries caused by the defective seatbelt, such as hospital stays, surgeries, medications, and physical therapy. It also covers future medical costs for ongoing treatment or rehabilitation.
  • Lost Wages: Victims can recover compensation for wages lost due to the inability to work following the accident. This includes not only lost income from the time missed at work but also potential future earnings lost if the injuries result in diminished earning capacity.
  • Pain and Suffering: This aspect of compensation addresses the non-economic damages like physical pain, emotional distress, and mental anguish suffered as a result of the accident.
  • Property Damage: A product liability claim can help cover repair or replacement costs for the vehicle as well as any other personal property damaged in the crash.

What to Do If You Are Injured by a Defective Seatbelt

While the correct use of a seatbelt can significantly reduce the risk of severe injuries, there may be situations where a seatbelt defect itself causes harm. These defects can range from sudden unlatching of the device during a crash to the use of weak materials that tear during a collision, and even can even include electronic or sensor problems.

Manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure that seatbelts installed in vehicles are safe and effective. If you experience a seatbelt failure that contributes to your injuries, you may qualify for legal action.

By filing a product liability lawsuit, you can recover financial compensation to pay for your medical expenses, lost wages, and more. The Seattle personal injury lawyers of Colburn Law are experienced in this process and available to help you seek justice. Contact a Washington product liability attorney as soon as possible to discuss your path to justice.