If Airbags Did Not Deploy in a Car Accident, Is the Car Company Liable in California?
David Muñoz | November 21, 2023 | Car Accidents
Automobile airbags, developed in the 1950s, save thousands of lives a year. These devices certainly do more good than harm. However, airbags sometimes hurt people even when they function properly. In other cases, their failure to deploy kills or harms someone who would have suffered no injuries if the airbag had deployed correctly.
California law offers options for those injured by the malfunction of an automobile airbag in a car accident.
Failure to Deploy: Sometimes It’s a Good Thing
Airbags do not deploy on just any impact, and that’s a good thing. You wouldn’t want your airbag deploying every time you made a sudden stop, would you? Airbag deployment can cause injuries to your face, for example. It’s worth the risk during a serious impact, of course, since the risk of injury is far worse if your airbag fails to deploy.
Why Airbags Don’t Inflate When You Need Them to: Common Airbag Defects
Airbags are complex mechanical entities. Just as there are many ways for the human body to get sick, there are many ways for an airbag system to malfunction.
Below are some of the most common ways an airbag can malfunction:
- Sensor malfunctions: Whether an airbag opens or not depends on the information that its sensors provide. If the sensor malfunctions by failing to notify the system that an impact is serious enough to justify deploying the airbags, they will not deploy.
- Defective components: An airbag system is made up of numerous components such as the inflator and various electrical parts. If certain ones fail, the airbag system will fail as well.
- Design defects: Flaws in the design of the system could render the airbags ineffective even if the product was manufactured in strict accordance with its original design. The system might fail in temperatures that fall below a certain level, for example.
- Software glitches: A software glitch could freeze the entire system at a critical moment or cause other critical malfunctions.
- Negligent maintenance or repairs: An accident caused by negligent maintenance or repairs would not be the fault of the manufacturer or distributor. These issues would not have existed when the product left their hands.
Keep in mind that since the federal government does not require side airbags, some cars do not have them. This absence could be devastating if you suffer a side-impact accident.
Common Injuries Arising from Airbag Malfunctions
Numerous injuries can result from airbag malfunctions, including the following:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI): You might suffer a brain injury if, for example, your head hits the steering wheel upon impact.
- Facial injuries: You might suffer extensive facial scarring from impact with the windshield. Also, an overly aggressive airbag might injure your face when it inflates.
- Chest Injuries: You might suffer a chest injury when your chest impacts the steering wheel or the dashboard.
- Knee injuries: This might happen when your knees slam into the dashboard.
- Internal injuries: You can suffer serious internal injuries in a vehicle accident without even realizing it.
Always seek medical attention any time your body suffers impact in a car accident. Some injuries take hours or even days to manifest symptoms.
Strict Product Liability: Probably Your Best Option
The strict product liability claim is a powerful legal tool, initially developed right here in California.
The Elements of a Strict Product Liability Claim
In a strict product liability claim against a manufacturer of a defective product such as a malfunctioning airbag, the plaintiff need only prove that:
- The product was defective and unreasonably dangerous when it left the defendant’s hands,
- The plaintiff used the product as intended, and
- The defect caused the plaintiff’s injury.
The plaintiff need not prove negligence on the part of the manufacturer.
Proving the Existence of a Defect
California law recognizes three kinds of product defects–design defects, manufacturing defects, and warning defects. To justify a product liability claim, the product must contain a defect that renders it unreasonably dangerous. A chainsaw can cut you because it is dangerous, for example. Because it was designed to cut, however, the danger is not unreasonable.
Proving You Used the Product as Intended
In a car accident claim, you can prove this element by showing that:
- At the time of the accident, you were driving the vehicle in a legal manner. If your car has an event data recorder (as many cars do), you can use data from this device to help prove that you were driving legally. The opposing party, however, can demand that you produce it, and they can then try to use it to prove that you were driving illegally (if indeed you were).
- You properly maintained the car, including its airbag system. You could lose your claim if your airbag’s malfunction was due to poor maintenance. To avoid this, keep all of your vehicle maintenance records.
Proving the Defect Caused Your Injury
An important point to remember is that the defendant in your product liability claim is not liable for the damages that you would have suffered even if the airbags had properly deployed. After all, the airbag manufacturer did not cause the accident itself. All the defective airbag did was fail to prevent the further damage that could have been avoided if the airbags had properly deployed. An accident reconstruction specialist can help you prove causation.
Who Can You Sue in a California Strict Product Liability Lawsuit?
Under California’s strict product liability law, you may be able to sue the following parties for compensation:
- The airbag manufacturer;
- The automobile manufacturer;
- The distributor(s); and
- The retailer/reseller.
Auto manufacturers rely heavily on product suppliers, including suppliers of airbags. It is likely that the manufacturer of your automobile did not manufacture the airbags, although it may have installed them improperly. Speak to your lawyer about which party you should file your product liability claim against.
You’re Going to Need a Lawyer for a Product Liability Claim
Airbag malfunction claims are almost always product liability claims. And product liability claims almost always involve considerable complexity. Don’t try to represent yourself; seek the assistance of a lawyer with experience handling airbag product liability claims.
Contact the San Diego Car Accident Law Firm of Mission Personal Injury Lawyers Today To Get More Information
Mission Personal Injury Lawyers
2515 Camino del Rio S Suite 350, San Diego, CA 92108
We also serve the state of Texas. Contact our personal injury law office in El Paso for legal assistance today.