Success Stories

transportation safety is our priority

Settlement for Client Who Suffered Partial Paralysis

Atlee Hall recently settled a case involving an unsafe airbag system in a passenger sedan. The vehicle was involved in a fairly significant frontal collision, yet, the passenger airbag did not deploy. Our client, who was properly wearing her seatbelt, suffered cervical spinal cord injury in this collision because her airbag did not deploy and properly restrain her head and neck in this frontal impact.

Our client was a seat belted passenger in her daughter’s vehicle on the way to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Traveling in the opposite direction was an SUV that lost control on ice, sliding across the center line, striking the front of our client’s vehicle. The airbag did not deploy in the crash and as a result caused paralyzing neck injury to our client.

An analysis of the vehicle’s Event Data Recorder (black box) showed that the change in velocity for the vehicle was 27 mph and the peak Gs recorded were 34 Gs. In discovery, we obtained documents from the defendant confirming that the airbag in this vehicle must deploy in crashes where the delta V is above 16 miles an hour and the Gs (forces) are above 27.

After careful examination of the vehicle and analysis, it was learned that the reason the airbag failed was because the wire attached to the electronic front airbag sensor became disconnected 12 milliseconds into the crash. Without the data from this airbag sensor, the airbag was not able to properly deploy. Extensive analysis and testing was conducted with an alternative design wire that would have allowed the wire harness to stay connected at least until the decision to deploy the airbag was made by the vehicle’s computer.

There are two critical functions for a frontal airbag. The first is to prevent or mitigate the severity of contact with the vehicle’s interior components, such as the instrument panel, steering wheel and A-pillar. The second equally important but less known purpose is to keep the head and torso in alignment during the occupant “ride down” process. Thereby, helping mitigate or prevent injuries to the head and neck from moving too far, too quickly. This case has been one of several defective, unsafe airbag system cases handled by the law firm of Atlee Hall, LLP. Deploying airbags may cause injury when they deploy with too much force, airbags may not prevent injury when they fail to deploy in crashes, or as has recently been evidenced by the Takata exploding airbags may cause injury when the components wear out over time but well within the expected life of the vehicle.

The case was highly technical in the field of automotive engineering and medicine, specifically, spinal cord injury, causation and caring for individuals who have tragically sustained paralyzing spinal cord injuries. Our firm worked with our client’s treating physicians, as well as other spinal cord specialists, neuro-radiologists and life care planners in order to help the defendants and the ultimately the jury understand the devastating effects of these types of injuries.