The Trouble with Airbags


December 20, 2017 / Product Injury

It’s estimated that roughly a stadium’s worth of people—39,976—were kept alive by frontal airbags from 1987 to 2012. Side airbags with head protection have done their part as well. An Australian study found that the likelihood of upper-body injuries and deaths to drivers was reduced by 61 percent, a percentage similar to an earlier (2006) IIHS study.

However, such protection comes at a cost. Even when airbags deploy as they should, you can be injured by them. When airbags deploy improperly, they can severely injure and kill. The Takata-manufactured airbags in many major vehicular brands have been implicated in 19 deaths and more than 180 injuries in the U.S. alone.

Airbags can become more likely to rupture with age due to certain components’ becoming corroded or unstable. A Miami driver suffered second-degree burns in September, 2017, when both the passenger and driver’s side airbags in her 2002 Jeep Liberty exploded without warning. Her burns required skin grafts and left her arms with significant scarring. The driver in this incident, plus three persons in other incidents involving exploding airbags, have joined in a suit claiming Jeep did not warn them about the applicable airbag recall.

Ways Airbags Can Injure You

Airbags that explode can shoot metal and plastic shrapnel into the vehicle; a number of the Takata airbag victims were killed by shrapnel. But airbags can harm you even when they operate correctly, due to the design and components of the average airbag:

  • An alkaline aerosol is normally released when an airbag deploys. If the aerosol mist contacts bodily fluids (tears, perspiration, etc.), deep burns to the eyes, face, and upper torso and arms can be the result.
  • In a child or in someone with osteoporosis, an airbag’s impact can break the ribs and sternum or bruise the spine. (Pediatricians recommend that children ride in car seats or booster seats because of airbag risks until they are 4’9” or taller and weigh 80 pounds or more.)
  • A Michigan Ear Institute study discovered that side airbags could cause ear problems, including perforated eardrums. Other injuries included chronic dizziness and ear pain from jaw problems.
  • Cardiovascular injuries have occurred in cases where no damage to the person’s body was visible. These “hidden” injuries, which can include myocardial infarctions, transections of the aorta, and cardiac tamponades, are especially likely to show up when the person is less than 10 inches from the airbag or does not have their seat belt buckled. The cardiovascular damage caused by these injuries can easily result in death.

Recent Vehicular Recalls

It seems as if airbags are often the subject of recalls. These three airbag recalls all occurred between July and November, 2017, and affect millions of drivers:

  • Mercedes-Benz recalled more than one million vehicles worldwide because the steering column could have defective wiring that causes the airbag to deploy with no warning. At least a half-million vehicles are affected in the U.S.: 2012-2018 SUV models GLC, GLA, and CLA, and A, B, C, and E-Class cars from the same years.
  • BMW is recalling more than 85,000 X3 SUVs manufactured from 2006 through 2010 because the front passenger seat’s occupant detection mat could be faulty. When someone is sitting in the seat, the airbag might not deploy should a crash occur. Recall notices will be sent in late November, 2017.
  • Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.33 million cars around the world for faulty airbag deployment and for an unrelated potential fire risk. The airbag recall affects approximately 770,000 vehicles: Dodge Journeys from 2011-2015 in North America, and Fiat Freemonts worldwide.

Locating Recall Information

Checking the NHTSA’s recall database is the best way to find out whether your individual vehicle has any open recalls against it. It’s especially critical to verify your vehicle’s recall status if you’ve moved or bought a used vehicle and have never received any recall notices. You’ll need to enter your vehicle’s identification number (VIN), which is on the vehicle’s registration certificate. Note, however, that the NHTSA site does not include recalls that are more than 15 years old. In such a situation, you could try contacting the vehicle’s manufacturer.

Serving personal injury victims in Indiana since 1982.

At Stephenson Rife, we have proven experience in helping people hurt in Indiana by defective automobiles. If you have experienced a problem with a potentially dangerous, defective, or previously recalled motor vehicle or one of its components, call Mike Stephenson today. Keep in mind that in Indiana there is a statute of limitations – or a deadline – for filing personal injury claims, so it is unwise to delay. Don’t lose the opportunity to obtain the money you need to put your life back on track and to make your family’s future financially secure. Call Mike for a free initial consultation at 1-317-825-5200 or contact us using our online form.

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