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Jonathan Rosenfeld

March 2, 2023

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When Seat Backs Fail

Multiple factors can contribute to injuries in a car accident. When vehicle owners consider the auto safety standards in the manufacturing of their cars, they are likely to think of features such as seat belts, airbags, or automatic braking systems.

Seatback failure is a hidden danger and can result in total loss of control of the vehicle and cause severe life-threatening injuries during an accident. The possibility of a seat back failing is unlikely to be at the forefront of the driver’s mind. However, the integrity of a seat back is crucial in keeping passengers safe during a collision.

Were you or a loved one involved in an auto accident and feel that seatback failure may have contributed to your injuries? If so, contact the personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form today for immediate legal advice and schedule a free consultation.

Our auto accident injury attorneys have many years of experience representing clients injured due to someone else’s carelessness and will fight for you so you can receive fair compensation. The product liability attorneys at our law firm work on a contingency fee basis, so you don’t have to pay us unless we recover money for you.

What Is Front Seat Back Failure?

The seatback is the vertical/ upright portion of the passenger’s seat. A front passenger seat is usually adjustable for comfort and is there to protect the passenger from an injury in the event of a car accident.

The seat back provides protection by preventing the passenger from violent movement in the vehicle and ensures that the passenger is kept in the best anatomical position to be protected by features such as airbags.

During high-speed rear-impact crashes, a front seatback may collapse backward. In rear-end collisions, the impact’s force can cause the front seat to break. Then the vehicle’s momentum can propel the front seat passenger into the back seat, causing severe injuries to not only the front seat passenger but any backseat passengers in the vehicle.

Seat Back Failures

Seatback collapse [1] can be caused by an auto or vehicle defect resulting in weak seats. Federal safety standards that auto manufacturers and automakers follow need to ensure seat strength and integrity to prevent seat back collapse injuries from occurring.

Safety advocates have been campaigning for an inquiry and subsequent improvement into the federal standard the auto industry would need to adhere to maximize safety.

What Are the Risks of a Front Passenger Seat Failure?

It is proven that the combination of airbags and seat belt usage saves car seat passengers’ lives and reduces the severity of injuries from the collision. However, when automobile seats fail, the occupant is moved out of position and cannot benefit from these safety devices including a seat belt.

The seatback is critical in a rear-ended collision as it keeps seat passengers in an upright position. A vehicle that has been hit from behind might be at risk of the vehicle’s front seats collapsing backward. An example of the dangers of seat back collapse might be a vehicle waiting at a red light that is rear-ended at high speed, causing the seats in the front to weaken and collapse backward or the front seat occupants being thrown forward.

A seat back collapse can further endanger a passenger’s life by shifting the front seat occupant into positions that will cause them to impact surfaces or be thrown hard from the vehicle.

Other complications of an auto defect that can arise from seat back failures include the following;

  • Sudden inability to operate the vehicle: Suddenly lying down while driving due to seat back failures has caused accidents that could have otherwise been avoided.
  • Injuries to other occupants: The failure of seat backs can injure other people inside the vehicles—particularly those in the back seat. Such failures can cause serious or fatal injuries to children in car seats that are struck by the collapsing seatback.
  • Entrapment of passengers: In an accident, if a seat back fails, it may trap a passenger, contributing to further injury if the victim cannot escape or be removed to safety during a car fire or if the vehicle is submerged in water.

Seat Back Failure Risks to Children

Approximately 50 children are killed yearly in rear-end crashes, with automobile safety experts reporting that several fatalities resulted from collapsing seatbacks.

When a vehicle defect or defective seat backs and the front seat back fails and collapses into the car’s rear, a child sitting in the back seat is at serious risk of entrapment, injury, and death.

Common Injuries Sustained When Front Seats Fail in Rear End Collisions

The risk of seat back failure injuries in a car accident increases when occupants are in the back rear seats. Passengers, particularly children traveling in the rear compartment, can sustain serious injuries when a seatback collapse during a rear-end collision.

Some of the most common serious injuries after seatback failures in rear impacts include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Paralysis
  • Whiplash
  • Organ damage
  • Limb amputations
  • Skeletal fractures
  • Facial and head injuries

What Are the Current Safety Standards?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) [2] are auto safety experts who enforce vehicle performance and safety standards. The organization collaborates with the government to reduce deaths and injuries from car accidents.

NHTSA has made sure to warn parents of the dangers involved in placing children in the front seats of a vehicle and has advised them always to put children in the rear seats. However, safety advocates state that in doing so, NHTSA has underestimated the dangers of seat back collapse and the resulting high risk of severe injury to children.

NHTSA has a responsibility to warn parents of the dangers of seat back collapse involved in an accident and develop clear safety standards for auto manufacturers to adhere to for maximum safety.

CBS Investigations Into Seat Back Failures

A CBS investigation found that federal safety standards for seat back safety have not been researched and updated since their introduction over 50 years ago. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS 207) that outlines the requirements for seat backs is so low that currently, even a banquet chair would pass.

The same report that came from the CBS investigation revealed:

  • NHTSA has been aware since the early 1970s that the standards for car seats have needed updating
  • Automakers have been aware of the dangers of seat back failures since the mid-1990s
  • A large number of seat backs from different automakers failed in crash tests
  • Despite concerns about raising standards, an industry engineer outlined that the cost of improving the safety of car seats would be as little as one dollar.
  • Several auto manufacturers have had recalls over their vehicle’s seat back safety issues in recent years. However, Mercedes Benz, BMW [3], and Volvo [4] have set an industry-leading example by proactively improving the strength of their car back seats to surpass the current safety regulations for auto defects.

Center for Auto Safety (CAS) Petition to the NHTSA on Seatback Failures

The CAS has also petitioned NHTSA to improve the standards for auto defects in car seat backs.

Also, the CAS urged NHTSA to address the issue of vehicle defects, including the collapsing seatbacks and the risk of serious injury resulting from seatback collapse in rear-end crashes.

The CAS petition included a detailed timeline of lawsuits and police reports that clearly showed the risk of seat failures to front seat passengers and a passenger sitting in the rear seats, such as a child.

What Is Being Done to Improve Safety Standards for Seat Back Failures?

In July 2020, lawmakers introduced a legislative bill to improve the safety of car seats. The Modernizing Seatback Safety Act proposed that NHTSA be required to strengthen seat standards.

Senator Markey, who brought forward the legislation, stated:

“Seat backs are failing because the NHTSA is failing to require higher standards and that by failing to install safety features, automakers are putting families at risk.”

In November 2021, six years after the CBS investigation revealed the need for seatback safety reform, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Under this legislative act, the NHTSA will have two years to upgrade the federal safety standards concerning car seats.

While this is a step in the right direction, the issue of seatback collapse and the overall safety of vehicle seats will remain an issue for years to come. Many vehicles on the road do not meet adequate safety regulations, leaving passengers at risk of being severely injured.

How Do I Claim Compensation for Seat Back Failure?

Anyone who experiences undue harm due to negligence is entitled to compensation for their medical bills, time off work, and pain and suffering.

If you or a family member have been in a car accident and feel that seat back failure may have contributed to your injuries, you must contact a law firm to engage a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

By contacting an attorney and proceeding with a car seat back failure injury claim, you may be able to obtain compensation.

A personal injury claim may provide compensation that covers:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of consortium
  • Wrongful death
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Punitive damages

What Steps Do I Take to Start the Compensation Process? Hire a Personal Injury Attorney

Call Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form for immediate legal assistance and schedule a free consultation to discuss your compensation case.

You must contact our office today and engage a professional personal injury lawyer to fight for a fair settlement and the compensation you deserve. Our auto accident lawyers have many years of experience representing clients injured due to someone else’s carelessness.

We accept all injury cases on a contingency fee basis. This agreement ensures you pay nothing until your case is resolved through a negotiated settlement or jury trial award.

All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team remains private through an attorney-client relationship.

Resources: [1] Forbes, [2] NHTSA, [3] BMW, [4] Volvo

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