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What Causes Airbag Injuries?

Experts In This Article

Florida Car Crash Lawyers

If you’re in a motor vehicle accident, two important safety features can reduce your risk of serious injury — your seat belt and your airbag. However, despite their proven ability to reduce driver fatalities, airbags can sometimes cause injuries when they deploy in a crash.

If you have been injured in a car accident that was caused by someone else’s careless or reckless actions, you can pursue compensation for your injuries through a car accident lawsuit. You may seek damages from the at-fault party’s insurance company for the expenses incurred for the treatment of airbag injuries, as well as other economic and non-economic losses. 

To learn more about how your claim might be impacted by the injuries you received during an accident, reach out to an Orlando car accident attorney.

How Airbags Save Lives

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), more than half a million lives have been saved in the U.S. as a result of airbags. Since 1999, these devices have been required to come standard for front-seat passengers of all vehicles. However, despite being a powerful protective feature, the airbag itself is capable of causing injury or even death.

Airbags are supplemental devices used with seatbelts to prevent serious injuries during a crash. Airbags work through a sensor that detects when the vehicle has been in a crash. The airbag itself is made of nylon material. It is inflated like a balloon by nitrogen gas and deflates after the individual’s body has made contact with the device.

As the airbag inflates, it bursts through a panel and into the vehicle’s cabin. The airbag provides a cushion that helps prevent the individual from being ejected from the vehicle and prevents his or her face and upper body from making contact with the windshield, steering wheel, and other parts of the vehicle during a collision.

Airbags deploy rapidly to protect people at the very second they need them. Most airbags deploy at 100 to 220 miles per hour, taking less than 1/20th of a second to inflate—roughly equal to the time it takes to blink your eyes or sneeze. While frontal airbags were the first of this apparatus to be introduced in vehicles, recent models generally include several types of airbags.

The airbag types commonly found in newer-model cars include:

  • Frontal airbags: These airbags are located on the steering wheel for the driver and in the front instrument panel for front-seat passengers.
  • Knee airbags: These airbags are located beneath the steering column and are designed to protect the driver and front-seat passenger’s knees during a crash. Unfortunately, analysis of crash test data and real-life crash reports indicates that knee airbags have an insignificant impact in the reduction of knee injuries suffered by front-seat occupants during a car crash, and in some accidents, a knee airbag actually resulted in a higher risk of injuries to the legs.
  • Side airbags: These airbags are located in the door panels and are designed to protect vehicle occupants in the case of a side-impact crash. Side airbags tend to stay deployed longer than front airbags to provide continued protection during a vehicle rollover.
  • Curtain airbags: These are located in the roof panel and designed to deploy in the upper part of the cabin, near the side windows, to protect the occupants’ heads. Like side airbags, curtain airbags are also intended to remain deployed for longer to provide added protection during a rollover.

How Airbags Can Cause Injuries

Before 1999, many vehicles already came equipped with frontal airbags. However, these airbags often inflated with so much energy that the airbag itself caused serious injuries that it was designed to prevent.

In a 20-year timeframe, airbags were responsible for nearly 300 deaths, mostly involving vehicles manufactured before 1999 and drivers and passengers who weren’t wearing their seatbelts. Starting in 1999, vehicle manufacturers were not only required to provide airbags standard in all models, but also to provide airbags less likely to result in serious injury.

Even with these changes, there are still reports of individuals incurring serious injuries from an airbag every year.

The IIHS offers this guidance on how vehicle occupants can prevent airbag injuries:

  • Drivers and front-seat passengers should sit centered in their seats, with their backs against seat backs and their feet on the floor.
  • The driver should be at least 10 inches from the steering wheel. Many modern airbag systems provide sensors that determine how close the front seats are to the airbag and will adjust the force of the deployment accordingly. Consult your owner’s manual to determine if your vehicle has this feature.
  • Vehicle occupants should avoid placing arms or legs on the panel where the airbag is located, as the energy of the deployment and the gases required for deployment can both cause injury.
  • Certain individuals have a higher risk of injury from an airbag, including small children and women in the advanced stages of pregnancy. It is recommended that small children always ride in the back seat, and that pregnant women take care to position themselves at least 10 inches from the airbag and properly position the lap and shoulder harness on the seatbelt to ensure maximum safety. Never place a child in a rear-facing car seat in front of an airbag that’s set to deploy.

Common Airbag Deployment Injuries

There are many ways that an individual can sustain an injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident, including from the airbag that was designed to prevent injuries.

Some of the more common airbag injuries suffered by individuals during a car crash include:

Chemical burns and other skin reactions from the gas used to deploy the airbag: Airbags use either sodium azide or sodium hydroxide. When the sensor detects a collision, an electrical charge causes the chemical to explode, where it converts to nitrogen gas inside the bag. 

If the bag ruptures, these chemicals can come in contact with the vehicle occupant’s skin. Like other types of burns, chemical burns result in damage to the skin. More severe burns have a risk of infection, scarring, and loss of mobility if scarring occurs in jointed areas. The most common parts of the body to suffer burns from a frontal, side, or curtain airbag are the arms, face, and chest area.

Friction burns and abrasions: The high speeds at which airbags deploy mean the force of the airbag itself against the skin can result in friction burns. These involve damage to the skin as a result of contact with a rough surface, as well as abrasions.

Eye and face injuries: The force of a frontal airbag deploying—and in some cases, rupturing—generally occurs right in the face of the vehicle occupant. This impact can result in airbag injuries to the face. 

Airbag deployment can cause injuries such as corneal abrasions, retinal detachments, or even fractures to the orbital area of the skull. Other common facial injuries include temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), a disorder of the jaw muscles or nerves, frequently resulting from the injury.

Chest injuries: While airbag injuries to the chest are not as common as they were with older airbag models, the force of a deployed airbag can still cause trauma to the chest walls and the passenger’s arms. Chest contusions and other soft tissue injuries are commonly seen after car accidents, although they may take some time for symptoms to develop. 

Brain injuries: Just as the energy of the airbag deployment can result in a force strong enough to result in burns and fractures, it is also strong enough in some cases—particularly those involving smaller people, such as children—to result in traumatic brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries are mainly caused by a violent blow or jolt to the head or body that results in damage to one or more of the functional sections of the brain, known as lobes. 

Despite the brain’s importance to survival, controlling all the body’s functions and involuntary responses, the organ has only a limited ability to heal from injury. This means that the deficits caused by the injury are often permanent and depend not only on the severity of the injury but the lobe(s) that sustained the damage.

Neck injuries: The force of the airbag’s deployment can also result in injuries to the neck, including damage to the vertebrae, the spinal discs, or even the spinal cord itself. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves extending from the base of the skull to the waist that acts as a messaging system between the brain and other parts of the body. 

Like the brain, the spinal cord only has a limited ability to heal, meaning an injury to this part of the body results in a permanent loss of function or sensation below the site of the injury, a condition known as paralysis. 

Spinal cord injuries in the neck are particularly catastrophic, as they often result in quadriplegia or paralysis of the chest, diaphragm, torso, shoulders, arms, hips, pelvis, and legs.

How Long Does it Take to Heal From Airbag Injuries?

The time it takes to heal from such injuries can vary greatly depending on the severity of the injury, the individual’s overall health, age, and many other factors. If you suffered injuries in addition to those caused by airbag deployment, your healing time could be prolonged. 

Minor injuries, such as abrasions or small burns, may heal within a few days to a couple of weeks. More serious injuries, such as fractures or significant burns, may require weeks or even months to heal fully. Physical therapy or other treatments may sometimes be necessary for a complete recovery.

It’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment recommendations for your specific situation. Your doctor can provide you with an estimated healing time based on your circumstances and health.

Seeking Compensation for Airbag Injuries

If you have suffered an injury from the deployment of your airbag during an accident that was caused by someone else’s careless or reckless actions, you can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of the injury on your quality of life through a car accident lawsuit.

Proving Liability

Liability is another term for legal responsibility.

To show that someone else was legally responsible for the accident that caused your injury, you must show:

Car Accident Lawyer Orlando, FL - Michael T. Gibson
Car Accident Attorney, Michael T. Gibson
  • The at-fault party owed you a duty of care, which refers to the actions a reasonable person would take in similar circumstances. All drivers owe a duty of care to operate their motor vehicles safely and legally.
  • There was a breach in the duty of care. This refers to the actions that the at-fault party took that were contrary to the duty of care that was owed. Examples of unsafe or illegal actions that a driver could take include impaired driving, distracted driving, speeding, failing to yield the right-of-way, wrong-way driving, and more.
  • The breach in care resulted in the accident, which caused you to sustain injuries due to the deployment of your airbag. Those injuries resulted in expenses and quality-of-life impacts.

Auto Justice Attorney Michael T. Gibson Can Help

The skilled attorneys at Michael T. Gibson, PA, have the skill to navigate the complexities of personal injury claims and can help ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve for your injuries and any additional losses you may have suffered. Contact a car accident lawyer today who can help you determine the strength of your case as well as the damages you can pursue.

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