Many drivers feel secure because they believe that if there is a serious accident, their airbag will deploy and possibly save them from catastrophic or fatal injuries. Many North Carolina residents who suffer from injuries arising out of a car crash point out, “My airbag never went off.” They have this reaction even when it would have made no difference to their injuries. However, airbags aren’t designed to go off in every crash and situation.
Back in 1999, the federal government changed the standards for airbags, noting that airbag deployment sometimes caused serious injuries or even death. Those at particular risk were kids, small adults, and sometimes occupants who weren’t wearing a seatbelt. Due to the change in standards, car manufacturers developed sensors that evaluate different data points including deceleration and make a determination about whether to deploy the airbags. Some sensors exist outside the car and react to an object hitting the car, while others are inside and relate to the occupants’ weight and size. Airbags can sometimes deploy when the bottom of the vehicle hits a low object on the road.
In some cases, an airbag can kill or injure someone, although such injuries and fatalities are rare. If your airbag didn’t go off when you thought it should have, as a plaintiff you’d have to show what’s called an “enhanced injury” as a result of the failure. This means you’ll have to show your injuries were worsened or exacerbated because of the failure. In most cases, this is hard to do and viable only in cases involving catastrophic injuries or a wrongful death.
For example, if a passenger in the front seat is killed in an accident because the airbags didn’t deploy properly, it may be possible to bring a crashworthiness or second collision claim. In these claims, the manufacturer or seller of an airbag or another safety component may be held liable under theories of negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty for any harm experienced in an accident when a defect in the component aggravated or created an added injury to the plaintiff.
In other words, the manufacturer won’t be held responsible for any injuries that you suffer in the initial collision. Instead, it can be held responsible for enhanced injuries that go beyond whatever those injuries from the initial collision would have been had the airbag been deployed appropriately. Crashworthiness refers to the protections that your car provides to you against the injuries you might suffer in an accident. Among these protections are airbags.
In the 1990 case of Warren v. Columbo, North Carolina courts recognized a claim for enhanced injuries. The court held that a manufacturer could be liable for enhanced injuries that negligent design or manufacture had caused. The case involved a tractor-trailer crashing into the side of a school bus and killing six kids and the bus driver, as well as wounding others. Although enhanced injury is a recognized claim in North Carolina, the way it may be limited by the doctrine of contributory negligence in the context of an airbag claim is not well established.
If you suffered injuries due to the wrongful conduct or negligence of another party, the experienced North Carolina car accident attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.
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