Personal Injuries from Defective Seat Belts

Most people are aware that they can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt, but what if the one they are wearing does not protect them the way it should?

Seat belts are highly effective at preventing injury or death during an accident, but only if they are well designed and manufactured. Under federal law, you have the right to sue a vehicle manufacturer if a faulty seat belt contributes to personal injuries during an accident.

Real World Connection:

A California lawsuit profiled by the Christian Science Monitor made its way to the Supreme Court and paved the way for other similar claims. As the report says, a Utah woman named Thanh Williamson was fatally injured in August 2002 when the 1993 Mazda MPV Minivan that she was riding in collided with another towed car that broke loose from a motor home. The driver and his daughter, in the front passenger seat, were wearing lap-and-shoulder belts and survived the crash. However, Mrs. Williamson was sitting in the back middle seat, which was equipped with only a lap belt.

Her family claimed that this did not sufficiently protect her and sued in California state court. The California court dismissed the suit, holding that federal vehicle safety regulations gave Mazda the option to choose either lap belts or lap-and-shoulder belts for the back middle seat of its minivan. However, the Supreme Court disagreed. It held that the lawsuit could proceed because the federal regulations merely set a floor, not a ceiling, on how protective seat belts should be.

Suing for Defective Seat Belts:

Lawsuits based on faulty seat belts depend on federal and state vehicle safety regulations. The regulations vary based on when a car was manufactured. For example, under federal motor vehicle safety regulation 208, cars manufactured on or after September 1, 2007 must be equipped with lap-and-shoulder belts in the front and back seats. The exception is side facing back seats. Trucks and buses manufactured after 2007 must also have lap-and-shoulder belts on all forward and rear facing seats. Research has found that people are more likely to wear lap-and-shoulder belts than lap belts alone. In addition, lap-and-shoulder belts offer better protection from rear collisions. In contrast, a car manufactured in 1996 may have only lap belts for certain types of front seats and still be in compliance with regulations.

Child safety is given special treatment in the vehicle regulations. For example, school buses that weigh 10,000 pounds or less and were manufactured on or after October 21, 2011 must have lap-and-shoulder belts for all seats. This is not true of older buses.

Florida generally mirrors federal requirements, but some states go beyond federal regulations. For example, California regulations prohibit a car dealer from selling a car manufactured from 1972-1990 without a notice on the window explaining the limitations of lap belts.

If you believe that your personal injuries may have been caused by a defective seat belt or by a seat belt that did not meet state or federal requirements, be sure to contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti today!

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