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The Dangers of Seat Back Failures in a Car Accident

seat back failures

We go to great lengths to keep our kids safe when they are traveling. Almost every state has seat belt laws, and all states have some type of child safety seat law. The prevailing conventional wisdom for the past several decades has been that the safest place for children to ride is in the back seat. But recent investigations have shown that this may not be always be the case.

Weak or defective seat backs may not always have the ability to withstand the impact of a car crash. And when a seat back fails/collapses, it can cause serious and catastrophic injuries, especially to those seated directly behind it.

There have been dozens of reported seat back failures in recent years, including several multi-million-dollar verdicts. For example, in 2016, the Rivera family received a $124.5 million award from a Texas jury after their seven-year-old son Jesse Jr. was severely injured when the seat back from the driver’s seat in their Audi collapsed backwards. The boy was partially paralyzed, suffered permanent brain damage, and experienced some loss of vision because of the crash, and he will need care the rest of his life. The family sued Audi, and the jury ultimately found that the seat back failure resulted from the company’s “gross negligence”.

What is a Seat Back?

The seat back is the upright portion of the vehicle seat, and with most passenger cars, only the front seats have them. Larger SUVs, minivans, and full-sized vans may also have one or two additional rows of seats that have seat backs. Automakers install seat backs not only for comfort, but also to reduce the momentum and impact of a crash for those sitting in those seats. Seat backs appear outwardly to be stable, and very few people think about what would happen if one fell backwards on someone sitting behind it. But this is exactly what happened to Jesse Rivera Jr. and many others who have found themselves sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Investigation Shows Automakers and the Government Not Doing Enough to Prevent Seat Back Failures

A CBS News investigation from 2016 uncovered some startling facts about the lack of action on the part of the government and the auto industry to make seat backs safe for consumers. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency responsible for setting auto safety standards, has been aware of problems with seat backs since the early 1970s. 

In 1974, the NHTSA announced that it planned to update the standards for the entire car seating system, but after 30 years of “studying” the issue, the agency abandoned its plans in 2004, citing the need for “additional research and data analysis”. Today, after over five decades of inaction, seat backs are subject to the same safety standards as automakers had in 1967. In fact, the standard is so low, even a banquet chair would meet the federal seat strength guidelines.

Automakers have also been aware of this problem for several decades. In a deposition for a 1996 lawsuit, a GM engineer admitted that, during crash tests, the company had begun tethering crash dummies to the seats because they are expensive and the chances of losing them were “pretty high.” In another lawsuit deposition, an industry engineer said that fixing the problem and making seat backs safe for consumers would cost “on the order of a dollar or so”.

During the Rivera lawsuit, crash test videos from the Audi model in question showed the seats collapsing backwards in the same manner in which they performed during the accident. Audi’s lawyer even admitted that their seats were designed to perform this way.

It is astounding that the auto industry continues to produce seat backs that have the potential to collapse on someone sitting behind them. The NHTSA’s position seems to be that the chances of this happening are rare and is not worth the trouble to upgrade the standards, but why wouldn’t the industry just do it on their own if the cost is minimal?

CBS identified over 100 cases of individuals who had been severely injured or killed due to seat back failures since 1989, and the vast majority of injury victims were children. While it may be true that seat back failures are not the most common vehicle defect, these types of statistics are meaningless to the Rivera’s and other families who have endured the immense suffering of having a permanently disabled child because of the industry’s indifference to this issue.

Injured in a Seat Back Failure in Mississippi? Call a Skilled Car Accident Lawyer in Pascagoula, MS

If you or someone close to you has been injured or killed because of a seat back collapsing or any other type of auto defect, you need strong legal counsel in your corner to help ensure not only that you receive maximum compensation, but that those responsible are held fully accountable. In Biloxi, Gulfport, Ocean Springs, Pascagoula, and communities throughout Mississippi, call the Gardner Law Firm today at (228) 900-9618 for a free consultation and case assessment. You may also send us a message through our online contact form or stop by our office in person at your convenience.

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