Seat belts save lives. You have heard this stated by many safety institutions, such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Yet, in some cases, seat belts are what cause injuries. While the injuries inflicted by a seat belt may not be as severe as those the restraint system prevented, they can still be serious and painful. After a car accident, you may be able to recover compensation if you were injured by your seat belt.
Seat belt injuries, also known as seat belt syndrome, refer to damage caused to a car accident victim by forces transmitted from the restraint or safety harness. A standard seat belt has three points of contact: the shoulder, chest and abdomen. In a motor vehicle collision, this three-point restraint holds a motor vehicle occupant in place to combat the forces of the crash. Seat belts offer protection to vehicle occupants by preventing them from striking objects inside the cab of the car or being ejected from the vehicle. In some cases, however, the force of the restraint itself causes injuries.
Seat belt injuries are often caused by blunt force trauma. This refers to a body’s impact with a firm surface or object (one that is dull, not sharp). When the significant forces of a car accident propel a vehicle occupant forward into a seat belt, the impact can be enough to cause injury or trauma to the three points of contact between the seat belt and the passenger’s body. Examples of seat belt injuries include:
While the majority of seat belt injuries are minor, trauma caused by a lap and/or shoulder belt can be severe. For example, victims with serious spinal injuries from seat belt syndrome could suffer permanent nerve damage and paralysis. These injuries can occur even if a vehicle occupant was wearing a seat belt correctly and if it did not contain any product defects. If the seat belt is defective, the injuries could be even more extensive.
In West Virginia, the person or party most at fault for causing a car accident will be financially responsible, or liable, for all related damages. An at-fault party will be held liable for a victim’s medical bills and property damage, including any harm caused by a seat belt. If seat belt syndrome caused an injury or exacerbated the harm suffered by a victim, the party that caused the crash will be required to pay for this injury as part of a car accident settlement.
If the seat belt malfunctioned and did not restrain the passenger as it should have during a car crash, resulting in injuries, the victim may have grounds to file a product liability claim against the manufacturer of a defective seat belt. This type of case aims to show that the auto part contained a design, manufacturing or marketing defect, and that this caused the victim’s injury. A product liability suit could be brought in addition to a car accident claim against the driver at fault for causing the crash.
Even a driver who is found to be at fault for a car accident could be eligible to file a product liability claim against a manufacturer for a defective seat belt. The driver’s claim could argue that he or she would not have suffered injuries in the crash had the seat belt performed as intended. As long as the driver is found to be less than 50 percent at fault for his or her injuries, financial compensation will still be available under West Virginia’s comparative negligence law.