Driving around Colorado Springs recently, I’ve witnessed the aftermath of several serious car accidents. Last week, I drove past a car that had flipped over on Austin Bluffs Parkway, causing the roof to partially cave in and fuel to leak all over the roadway. And just the other night, while driving home from work on Union Boulevard, I passed the scene of a serious collision, which had completely demolished the front end of a small sedan. As I approached the site of the accident, I saw an ambulance and fire truck pulling away and hoped that whoever was inside wasn’t seriously hurt. Based on the catastrophic damage to the sedan, however, it seemed unlikely that everyone left the scene unscathed.
One image from yesterday’s accident that stuck with me was the sedan’s broken windshield, which had shattered in a spider web formation directly in front of the driver’s seat. This could have been caused by the airbag deploying or, more disturbingly, by the driver’s head impacting the windshield. While I certainly hope that this second possibility did not occur, it reminded me of how much we depend on seatbelts and other safety systems in our vehicles to protect us from life-threatening injuries. When these safeguards fail due to dangerous defects in the equipment, manufacturers can be held liable for what are often catastrophic injuries.
We don’t think it can happen here, but on November 18th, a Denver jury awarded $52 million to a woman who was paralyzed in a car accident and whose injuries were partially the result of dangerous defects in her car’s safety equipment. The jury assigned 50 percent liability to the at-fault driver and the remaining 50 percent to the auto manufacturer (Honda) and the windshield manufacturer (ACG Automotive). This verdict set a record as the highest personal injury award in Colorado history. It sends a clear message to auto manufacturers that they can and will be held accountable for the dangerous defects in their vehicles.
The issue of dangerous defects in cars’ safety equipment is more common that you might think. On December 2nd, Ford recalled 680,000 vehicles for faulty seat belts which can fail in the event of an accident. In a statement released to the public, Ford admitted that the seat belt cables in these vehicles had the potential to overheat and break during collisions, with potentially fatal results. Fortunately, there have been no fatalities so far linked to the defective seat belts and Ford has decided to do the right thing by trying to fix the problem.
Other companies are not always so forthcoming about their dangerous defects. Airbags manufactured by the Japanese company Takata have killed approximately 11 people to date and injured 180 more, with many more cases still under investigation. The airbags have the potential to explode, projecting metal shards throughout the interior of the vehicle. Takata eventually issued a massive recall affecting 42 million vehicles in the U.S., but is still facing class action lawsuits for the issue. It’s failure to address the problem early on has cost some people their lives and permanently injured others. The Takata airbag issue is not unique. Whether it’s car seats that come loose during a collision or gas pedals that get stuck, defective automobile components have killed and maimed countless individuals over the years, and new problems are constantly being discovered.
If you’re injured in a car accident and you believe that your seatbelt, airbag, or other safety features may not have been working correctly, contact a skilled personal injury attorney you can trust to review your case, and help you hold all responsible parties accountable. While a careless driver may have caused the accident, your injuries may have been exacerbated by faulty safety equipment. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t wait too long to before contacting an attorney.
By: David Law