California law regarding seat belts states any child under the age of two is to ride facing backward in a rear-facing car seat unless they weigh more than forty pounds or are over forty inches tall. The child has to be secured in a way that complies with the weight and height limits specified by the car seat’s manufacturer. This rule is covered under California Vehicle Code 27360.

Children who have not reached the age of eight are to be secured in a booster seat or car seat in the back seat, and children who are over the age of eight or measure four-feet, nine-inches can use either the vehicle’s seat belt or a booster seat. When a passenger is over the age of 16, they are required by law to follow the Mandatory Seat Belt Law.

California law states that all drivers and their passengers in a motorized vehicle must wear a seatbelt. These belts are required and are the most essential and most straightforward means of saving your life on the roads. Regardless of the myths, people have spread, a seat belt has proven to save lives when vehicle accidents occur. Studies show that more than fifty percent of people who have died from a vehicular crash were not wearing their seatbelts. So what happens if there is seat belt failure?

Seat Belt History

A seat belt is a restraining device used in light trucks, cars, vans, SUVs and almost every commercial vehicle on the road. In the beginning, they were designed to restrain a body at the waist, but for most of their history, they include a restraint for the upper part of the body as well. These are known as ‘two-point’ seat belts as they restrain both the lower and upper portions of your body.

While wearing a seat belt during an impact or collision during a vehicular accident, it is far less likely that you will be thrown from the vehicle upon impact. Drivers and occupants of the car are less likely to strike parts of the vehicle’s interior or other passengers should a sudden stop be required. Most people are thrown from a vehicle upon impact if they are not wearing a seat belt to restrain them inside. Those thrown from the car or any vehicle seldom survive the accident.

Seat belts were installed into American-made cars back in 1968 as a mandate from the National Highway Safety Bureau, but passengers were not required to use them. The law requiring seat belts to be worn while inside a moving vehicle was not put into place until 1984. These laws are in effect today, and those inside a vehicle which is moving and do not have their seat belts in place will be ticketed and fined.

Seat Belt Defects

Seat belts are mandated by law because they are supposed to save your life if you are involved in a vehicular accident. However, this is not always the case as there are incidents where a defective design or a manufacturer defect can cause a seatbelt to malfunction. These malfunctions can lead to severe injuries or fatalities during a rollover accident or collisions.

There are several ways a seat belt can malfunction:

  • Failure in the retracting device. When the retracting function of the seat belt fails, the seat belt will not tighten quickly enough to prevent injuries during an accident. There have been reports of seat belts pulling free of their mounting, or even the belt itself will wear out after years of use.
  • Seat belt releases during an accident. If the seat belt releases during an impact, it can be fatal. These incidents have occurred during rollover accidents as body parts may have come into contact with the latching system of the belt.
  • Seat belt injuries. The lower portion of the seat belt that crosses the lap should rest across the pelvic bones. When a seat belt does not contain both the lap and shoulder belts, just having a lap belt can cause spinal cord injuries. The belt only going across the lap can also cause abdominal injuries. These injuries happen when the belt flips off the pelvis, or the occupant slips under the belt.
  • False latching. False latching happens when the seat belt buckle feels and looks like it has latched, but comes loose during an impact
  • Material defect. When the material used to make the seat belt or the weaving of the material is defective, resulting in rips and tears.
  • Door mounted belts
  • Lap-only designed belts

These are only a few common indicators of how some seat belts can be defective. Other circumstances can also cause defects and result in death or serious injuries. Several vehicles have been recalled because their seat belts were detected to have faults in their design or manufacturing. Automakers such as Ford, Honda, Toyota, and GM have issued certain recalls on some of their models to adjust the seat belts and make them safe.

When seat belts or seat belt defects cause injuries or fatalities during an accident, auto defect experts and investigators can determine if the seat belt contributed or caused your injuries. Automakers have to construct and design seat belts that will withstand a vehicular accident. These safety devices are supposed to be crashworthy and able to withstand accidents while fulfilling their intended purpose. Their other goal is to keep passengers from colliding with objects flying around inside the vehicle as well as keeping passengers inside the vehicle when there has been a collision.

If you are involved in an accident, and your seat belt fails, resulting in injuries or a passenger in your car has died as a result of the seat belt not correctly functioning, you have the right to compensation. It is your legal right to claim financial compensation for any injuries through a seat belt defect lawsuit. Contact the Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney if you or a passenger in your vehicle has suffered injuries from seat belt failure to learn about the compensation you deserve.

How Common are Seat Belt Failures?

Seat belt failure is a significant problem in the United States and has caused serious injuries and death to many people across the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that more than three million people suffer injuries that have been caused by their seat belts failing every year. It is also estimated that more than 40,000 people die as a result of preventable auto defects each year. When a car flips over during an accident, it is seat belt failure that is the primary reason a serious injury or death results from the crash.

Seat Belt Failure during the Two Phases of Collision

Experts who deal in vehicular accidents divide collision accidents into two phases- one is where one vehicle impacts another vehicle or an object, and phase two is when the impact of the vehicle causes the occupants inside to collide with someone inside the interior and potentially other objects that are flying around due to the collision.

Seat belts are intended to minimize injuries and damage which can occur during the second phase of collisions. They are designed to reduce or eliminate contact that can happen between the vehicle’s interior and the passengers. The seat belt injury occurs when the design of the seat belt malfunctions either due to its production, installation, or design defect.

Signs to Watch for in Possible Seat Belt Defect

Signs that your seat belts did not withstand an impact or collision include, but are not limited to:

  • Occupants in the vehicle are not belted after the crash but insist they were before it happened.
  • The vehicle has little damage, yet the belted victim has serious injuries.
  • More than one belted occupant of the vehicle suffered severe injuries during an impact.
  • A passenger wearing a seat belt at the time of the impact is ejected out of the vehicle or makes contact with the windshield during the impact.
  • After the accident, a torn or damaged seat belt is found among the rubble.

If you discover any of these signs following an accident, you need to contact Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney immediately, so an expert can investigate and determine if your seat belt failure was the cause for any injuries sustained in the accident.

Who is Responsible for Seat Belt Failure?

Vehicle manufacturers and those who design and sell seat belts could be responsible for an injury caused due to a seat belt failure. Those who design seat belts try to come up with the best protective system possible should an accident occur in a vehicle. Sometimes, these plans do not work. It is the job of those who design and sell seat belts, along with the vehicle manufacturers to test these belts and ensure they will keep drivers and their passengers safe in the vehicle should an impact happen.

The auto manufacturers perform the tests; however, they are often slow to use new technology, which can often lead to outdated seat belt systems going into their new vehicles. When this is discovered, they will issue recalls, but the discovery is usually found by the customers who have purchased and have been trusting the systems until the defect was realized.

It is possible to sue manufacturers for either punitive or compensatory damages. Compensatory damages will reimburse you for any medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other amounts you have had to pay or have lost as a result of the seatbelt failure. They can also be sued for wrongdoing as a means of punishing them for their mistakes. These lawsuits discourage manufacturers from putting unsafe or defective products on the market and encourages them to use better safety testing methods.

Myths Surrounding Seat Belts

There are numerous myths surrounding seat belts that people believe are reasons for not wearing them while in a vehicle. Some of those myths include:

  • You don't have to wear a seat belt if your trip is short. This myth is false as you need to use a seat belt every time you are in a vehicle, and it is moving. The time it takes to buckle-up is well worth your life.
  • If the trip is quick, a child doesn’t have to be buckled. There are thousands of children injured or killed every year in accidents. Children are much safer, and their survival rate is increased, no matter how far the drive is when they are buckled.
  • A person can be trapped in a car by a seat belt. Wearing a seat belt when involved in a vehicular accident makes it less likely that you become unconscious, which means you will be able to get yourself out of the car.
  • It is possible to be thrown from a vehicle and survive. Chances of surviving an accident are fives greater if you are not thrown from the vehicle after a collision. Being thrown from the vehicle puts you at risk of being hit by another vehicle on the road.

California Seat Belt Laws and Personal Injury Claims

It doesn’t matter if you are a passenger in a vehicle or the driver, California requires everyone in the vehicle to wear a seat belt. This rule is covered under Vehicle Code 27315. If you are injured in a vehicular accident, even if you were not wearing your seatbelt, you are still able to file a claim for personal injuries. The claim could include pain and suffering if the other driver was negligent.

California is not a contributory negligence state; it is a comparative fault state and has stated that even though the seat belt was not worn, it does not mean a plaintive cannot file for injuries in California.

  • Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence is a portion of the law that states that if a person is injured and it is partially their fault the injuries occurred (their negligence to perform some act), the injured person is then not entitled to compensation from another who has been determined to have caused the accident.

  • Comparative Fault

A Comparative fault is a portion of the law that allows a plaintiff and a defendant to compare their share of responsibility for the accident. This portion of the law will enable even recovery if both of the parties are negligent and have contributed to the cause of the injuries sustained during the accident. Comparative fault is often referred to as comparative negligence.

  • Vehicle Code 27315

The code imposes laws for wearing seat belts and requires vehicle owners to ensure their seat belts are in working order. Any driver or person who violates this law will face a fine of $20.00 for their first offense and a fine of $50.00 for every offense after the first. These are base amounts which will have fees and penalties added to them. If a driver or passenger ignore tickets issued for failing to wear a seat belt, they have new charges added including ‘failure to appear’ which is a misdemeanor in California.

If the case is taken to trial; however, the jury will be allowed to consider if the injuries could have been avoided if you were wearing a seat belt. It is important to discuss your injuries with Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney to determine if your injuries are still viable for a personal injury claim. There are biomechanical experts as well as the medical team who would have treated your injuries that will be able to tell if the seat belt would have made a difference in your injuries.

Seat Belt Defense

The ‘seat belt defense’ is when a person is involved in an accident without having their seat belt on and suffer injuries as a result of not wearing the belt. The negligent driver responsible for the accident will use the ‘seat belt defense’ as an attempt to reduce or eliminate their responsibility for the injuries sustained by the party who did not have their seat belt on at the time of the impact.

When the negligent driver attempts to use this defense as a means of reducing or eliminating their responsibility for injuries, they will have to prove:

  • In the exercise of ordinary care, the injured party should have used the seat belt
  • The injuries that occurred would not have happened had the seat belts been used

In order to prove these points, the negligent driver will need to hire experts to verify that the injury would not have happened with a seat belt in place on the passengers or driver injured.

Passenger Without Seat Belt is Injured

When a passenger in your vehicle is injured as a result of an accident, and they were not wearing a seat belt, they may have to face the ‘seat belt defense.’ It should be noted; however, as a driver of a vehicle where a passenger does not wear a seat belt, you may be in violation of the law by allowing them to be in your car without the belt in place. Vehicle code 27315, in California, states that a driver of any vehicle shall not operate the vehicle unless all passengers and themselves are adequately restrained with their seat belts. 

Find an Attorney Near Me to Handle Seat Belt Failure Personal Injury Claim

If your vehicle has a seat belt failure that results in serious injury or death, you need the help of the Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer. Call today at 424-231-2013 and discuss your options to receive the compensation you deserve.