Settlement with Pick-Up Truck Manufacturer involving a Defective Airbag System Design

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Atlee Hall Partner, Jaime Jackson, recently resolved a case involving a defectively designed airbag system in a full-size pick-up truck.  Our client’s spouse was killed when the passenger airbag system failed to properly protect him in a low-speed frontal collision.

The front of the pick-up truck struck the side of a passenger vehicle that had run a stop sign. The airbags deployed, however, the passenger sustained a fatal traumatic spinal cord injury.

Investigation and Analysis of Airbag Defect

Atlee Hall was brought into the case to investigate why the passenger was killed when there was minimal impact damage to the pick-up truck that impacted the side of the car. Everyone involved in the collision was uninjured or minimally injured, other than the pick-up occupant who sustained fatal injuries.

As part of the initial investigation, the pick-up truck’s airbag control module (Event Data Recorder) was downloaded and analyzed. The data revealed the change in velocity for the truck (Delta V) was 10.6mph, barely severe enough to deploy the first stage of the airbag deployment. Dependent on the severity of the crash, airbags are designed to deploy in two stages.

An analysis of the inside of the vehicle revealed that the occupant of the truck struck their head on the roof right next to the interior rearview mirror. One of the primary defect claims made about the airbag system was that the size of the airbag for the passenger was not sufficient enough to cover the front area. The airbag would need to be larger to allow the passenger to move forward during a collision and prevent the occupant from striking their head.

Common Airbag Defects

When airbags work properly, they are critical to preventing injuries and saving lives. However, improperly designed or manufactured airbags can seriously injure or kill innocent people. Faulty airbags can fail in a number of ways, as in this case with an unsafe design of the size of the airbag.  A defect may have occurred if an airbag does the following during a collision:

  • Hit occupant before deployment
  • Punched out of its storage compartment and strikes an occupant with excessive force.
  • Deployed unnecessarily in a minor accident, causing an injury that would not have happened otherwise.
  • Ruptured and sprayed shrapnel into the vehicle compartment, like the problem with Takata airbags.
  • Failed to deploy.
  • Had incorrectly calibrated sensors that caused overly aggressive deployment or no deployment at all.

In airbag cases, it is important to evaluate whether the airbag caused or enhanced the injury, such as loss of an eye, blindness, head trauma, shrapnel injury, or failed to deploy and prevent a catastrophic head or spinal cord injury.