Settlement in Products Liability Case Involving an Unsafe Seat Belt Causing Ejection from SUV

Written By Jaime Jackson

Atlee Hall attorneys Jaime Jackson and Ben Vanasse recently settled a case involving an unsafe seat belt in an SUV. The seat belt unlocked during a rollover, which created slack in the safety seat belt system and caused the driver to be ejected from the vehicle, resulting in his death.

Details of the Accident

Our client was the seat-belted driver in the SUV. The SUV drifted off to the edge of the roadway and steered back into the roadway, however, the SUV rolled over into the middle of the road. During the rollover sequence, the locking mechanism in the seat belt retractor failed allowing the seat belt webbing to be released. The slack in the seat belt system caused the driver to be ejected. Even though our client was wearing his safety seat belt, because of the failure of the seat belt system, he essentially became unrestrained and was ejected from the vehicle. Rescue personnel at the scene found him partially outside the vehicle still tangled in his seat belt.

How the Unsafe Seat Belt Failed

Atlee Hall argued on behalf of the driver’s family that this SUV was defective because the safety seat belt system had failed to restrain the driver and keep him inside the vehicle during the rollover. Instead the seat belt unlocked, released the webbing and allowed the driver to be ejected. Extensive testing was performed to verify how this seat belt retractor unlocks in a rollover. Several alternative designs to show how the seat belt should stay locked were also tested.

The Danger of Roll Over Accidents

A rollover accident is always serious and will put a vehicle’s design and safety equipment to the test. This type of accident has the potential to expose a myriad of defects, therefore it is important to first review why it happened, and second, whether the vehicle and its safety systems adequately protected the occupant. It is critical to quickly determine for instance, whether a tire or mechanical failure was involved, and whether electronic stability control (ESC) was incorporated and performed as intended. If the occupant was not adequately protected, an analysis of the injuries may expose defects in areas such as the roof, seat belt, or failure to equip the vehicle with rollover airbags, also referred to as rollover canopies or curtains. A quick and thorough investigation is critical in identifying a product defect, crash worthiness or other claim exists.