Legally Reviewed by:

Jonathan Rosenfeld

March 2, 2023

Over $400 Million worth of case results

Awarded The Best Lawyer in 2024 by U.S. News

Nationally Recognized in Legal Community


Seat belts are the single most effective way to protect yourself in a car accident, but when they fail, you’re at risk of serious injury or death. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about one-third of all vehicle accidents involve seat belt failure.

Are you the victim of a defective seatbelt accident, or did you lose a loved one to the wrongful death caused by another’s negligence? At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our personal injury attorneys are legal advocates for injury victims seeking compensation and justice from those who caused them harm.

Contact a products liability attorney at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form today to schedule a free consultation. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team remains private through an attorney-client relationship.

Seat belts are an essential part of your car’s safety system. They help prevent serious injuries and death in a car crash, but you can be seriously injured or killed when they fail to work properly.

Seat Belt Failure Statistics and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

In 2017, there were over 2 million vehicle crashes involving seat belt failure. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 1,600 people died due to this type of accident. An additional 3,300 suffered severe and fatal injuries such as broken bones and brain damage.

An estimated 7 out of 10 people who die in a car accident aren’t wearing their seat belts at the time of impact. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than half of all vehicle occupants who died were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.

The NHTSA determined that if 100% of drivers had worn their seatbelt during 2017, approximately 15,000 lives could have been saved. This number is compared with about 1,700 lives saved by airbags alone during that same year.

Therefore, to avoid being one of these statistics, every driver and passenger must wear seat belts on every trip, no matter how short.

Arguments are constantly made regarding the effectiveness of seatbelts in preventing and reducing the severity of injuries sustained in auto accidents.

However, since implementing laws requiring seat belts, there has been a marked difference in the amount of life-changing or devastating injuries sustained by occupants involved in accidents.

Seatbelt systems are only effective safety tools when they work properly. However, defective seatbelts contribute to severe injuries that would have otherwise been prevented if the seatbelts had worked as they should have.

It is no secret that millions of vehicles on the road today have poorly designed seatbelt systems that have proven unreliable in accidents. Auto companies are well aware of these issues.

Yet, instead of recalling the affected vehicles, they have taken a gamble that the settlement cost with those affected will cost less money than it would issue a recall.

Those involved in accidents that affect their quality of life have every right to compensation when the impact and severity of their injuries could have been greatly reduced had the manufacturer not willfully refused to address valid safety concerns.

Types of Seat Belt Defects

There are numerous ways in which design and materials can cause seat belts to fail to work improperly or to fail.

Examples include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Webbing Failure, material tears, or wears prematurely: The webbing used to produce seatbelts needs to secure the occupant in place and not tear during an accident, causing the occupant to strike the steering wheel, dashboard, windshield, or roof. If defective materials contribute to injury and the manufacturer was aware of the design defect, the company is liable for damages.
  • Too much slack: A passenger’s or driver’s body may be thrown backward or sideways by the seat belt if it has too much slack, posing a risk of severe injuries such as contact with the glass or metal inside of the vehicle door or windshield.
  • Retractor failure: The retractor is the most important component of the seatbelt system because it locks the seatbelt and occupant in place during an accident. Unfortunately, design flaws and poor materials may cause the retractor to lock improperly and give enough slack in the belt to cause injury. In some cases, the retractor fails to work, and the occupant may strike surfaces in the vehicle in the same manner as if they were not wearing a seatbelt.
  • Broken locking mechanism: When activated by the movement of the car or seat belt motion, the locking mechanism keeps the passenger in place. A loose-fitting seat belt can cause the occupant to strike objects inside the car or be ejected, presenting a severe risk of injury.
  • Poorly designed systems: Seatbelts are part of an entire system designed to restrain occupants in their seats during an accident. Unfortunately, each component of that system has the potential to contribute to injuries. For example, the anchor point of the seatbelt impacts the position of the occupant during the impact. In rollover incidents, poorly anchored belts can cause common injuries to the head and neck, potentially leaving the victim paralyzed.

Other Possible Causes of Seat Belt Failure

There are many possible causes of seat belt failure, including the following:

  • Poor design or construction
  • Abuse or damage during use
  • Sharp edges or pointed objects attached to the belt
  • Seat covers that interfere with belt performance
  • Poor maintenance or inspection
  • Bodyweight that surpasses the seatbelt’s limit

In a product liability case, an attorney may be able to prove one of the following:

  • The seatbelt was manufactured with a defective design. In these cases, all seatbelts of the same design would be potentially dangerous, and all people who used them could be injured.
  • Seatbelts were manufactured correctly, but the seatbelt assembly was not assembled properly. In this case, only certain seatbelts would be defective, and injury can only occur when that particular belt is in use.
  • A seatbelt was manufactured correctly, but the assembly was not installed properly. In this case, only certain vehicles would be defective and fatal injuries can only occur when that particular seat belt is in use.

When seat belts fail to function well, it can cause severe injuries that can change your life in an accident. As a result, the Federal Government requires seatbelts to pass rigorous safety tests to be used for consumer transport.

Lap Belts in Older Vehicles

Seatbelts have not always been a mandatory safety requirement in the United States. However, before 1960, lap belts were an accepted form of protection in most vehicles.

Since it was considered sufficient to have the driver’s seatbelt, most cars had either center or side bench seats which allowed the three other occupants to share a pair of lap belts.

This type of restraint was not effective at all. First, it did not provide any structure for the upper torso, meaning that in an accident, your body would go flying forward without any restraint. Furthermore, the lap belt only went across the waist and failed to protect the upper thighs, particularly vulnerable during a car accident.

A Center Seatbelt

The center passenger is at particularly high risk of a side impact because they have no door for protection. As a result, many manufacturers added the third seat belt across the car’s center to add some measure of protection during a serious accident.

While this reduced injuries, it was not as effective as an anchored seatbelt system required of all vehicles produced. Since most consumers had to purchase their seatbelts, it was not until the 1970s that there was a federal mandate for passenger safety in automobiles.

By law, every vehicle must have seat belts installed for every seat. In addition, if the vehicle has a center seat belt, it must be anchored to the car’s floor, allowing for effective distribution of force during an accident.

Since then, mandatory seat belt laws have been enacted, and every vehicle is required to be fitted with properly working safety restraints.

Faulty Seatbelts Are Dangerous

While it is clear that seatbelts are an essential part of the safety features in modern cars, not every vehicle has installed a safe set of safety belts. Your safety seat belt may have been damaged or improperly repaired by a mechanic at some point, or your vehicle may have been in an accident which resulted in damage to the seat belt.

Seatbelts are designed to keep you firmly in place during an accident. However, if the seat belt is damaged, it may not work properly and increase your risk of injury.

A faulty seat belt can cause severe injuries that can change your life. You may be entitled to compensation for your life-threatening injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Injuries in Seat Belt Failure Cases

The severity of injuries resulting from seat belt failure is one of the main reasons the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) have investigated cases where seatbelts failed.

  • Severe brain damage: Brain damage is one of the most common types of injury sustained in accidents, especially if a seat belt does not securely restrain the occupant. When the head strikes the steering wheel, dashboard, or windshield, the brain compresses without restraint to hold it in place. If there are no other injuries that contribute to death, an unprotected brain is almost always fatal.
  • Neck and spinal cord injuries: Often result when the occupant is thrown from the vehicle, causing the person to hit their head on other objects in the vehicle or in cases where there are multiple occupants, and one crashes into another in a seat belt failure crash.
  • Head injuries are less common in accidents involving seat belt failure because it is often difficult for an unrestrained person to strike their head due to the accident itself. However, no other injuries are sustained in some cases, and a blow to the head can cause serious harm.
  • Injuries from car fires: A car fire following an accident is one of those situations that nobody expects but can occur regardless of how well a vehicle has been maintained. Defective seat belts can lead to the occupants being thrown from their vehicles, resulting in facial and other types of burns when there is an accident.

Parties Liable for Seat Belt Defects

Three parties can be liable for seat belt defects, including manufacturers, retailers, and installers. In addition, plaintiffs have legal recourse against all parties involved in the injury for defective seat belts that contribute to injuries sustained in accidents.

Seatbelt injuries caused by seat belt design flaws or poor materials should be the manufacturer’s responsibility, while installation and retail defects should fall onto the retailers and installers.

Liability for Seat Belt Injuries

It is important to understand that all parties could be held responsible for any injuries sustained due to a seat belt defect in a personal injury claim. However, a product’s liability claim will place fault on those involved in the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of the seat belt system according to their respective involvement in the defect’s creation.

If the seat belt fails during a car accident, legal recourse may be possible regardless of who is responsible for the seat belt failure (manufacturer, retailer, or installer).

Lawyers can determine liability by examining each party’s role in the manufacturing and distributing the defective seat belt system.

When a car seat belt fails during an accident, it can be difficult to understand which party is responsible for the damages caused by that seat belt failure. It can be even more confusing when multiple parties are at fault, and their respective liabilities must be assessed separately.

However, if you or someone you love has suffered injuries due to a seat belt defect, you may be able to pursue damages against all parties involved in the creation and distribution of that seat belt.

Contact a personal injury lawyer today for more information on your legal options for pursuing compensation after a car accident.

How to Determine If Seatbelts Were Defective

If you are involved in a car accident and notice that you are the only one of the occupants involved in the incident who sustained unusually severe injuries, a defective seat belt component of the vehicle’s seat belt system may be to blame.

It can be extremely difficult to prove that your injuries result from seat belt failures without access to the system itself. So, make sure that the vehicle and seat belt systems are preserved so that professionals in the accident reconstruction field can examine them properly.

Forensic Investigation After a Crash

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that many serious injuries result from seat belt failures during an accident. Seat belts are intended to keep occupants inside the vehicle, preventing them from being ejected or partially ejected during a crash.

If a seat belt does not function properly, occupants can be thrown around the car’s interior, resulting in facial and other types of burns.

Three parties can be liable for seat belt defects, including manufacturers, retailers, and installers. For a defective seat belt that contributes to injuries sustained in accidents, plaintiffs have legal recourse against all parties involved in the injury.

Seat belt injuries caused by seat belt design flaws or poor materials should be the manufacturer’s responsibility. In contrast, installation and retail seat belt defects should fall onto the retailers and installers.

Seat Belt Failures

In recent years, many people have been severely injured and killed by a defective seat belt.

In 2021, Honda and Acura vehicles equipped with front seat belts that failed during accidents will be recalled due to wrongful death claims.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a study of police reports on the subject of seat belt failure, including information such as:

  • Of all NHTSA investigations into fatal crashes between 2002-2005 involving unoccupied cars, there were 990 rear-seat occupant fatalities. People under 6’2″ would have fit in the back seat but were killed by injuries sustained when their seat belts should have protected them.
  • Almost six percent of drivers who died in car crashes last year would still be alive if their motor vehicle had a properly working safety seat belt.
  • Seat belts are 80% effective at preventing fatalities during car accidents.

Seat Belt Failure Claims

Seat belts are supposed to help keep occupants inside the vehicle, preventing them from being ejected or partially ejected during a car crash. However, if a seat belt does not function properly, the vehicle occupants can be thrown around the car’s interior, resulting in facial and other types of burns.

Three parties can be liable for seat belt defects, including manufacturers, retailers, and installers. For a defective seat belt that contributes to injuries sustained in accidents, plaintiffs have legal recourse against all parties involved in the serious injury.

Hire a Seatbelt Failure Lawyer to Resolve Your Compensation Claim

Auto product liability attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC have access to experts in this field and the medical field.

So, allowing us to look into your seat belt failure case from every angle possible to determine the cause of your injuries, the financial cost of medical treatment, recovery, ongoing care, and who is financially liable for covering those costs.

Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC lawyers have the knowledge, experience, and resources needed to win your seat belt failure case and hold auto companies accountable for their negligence.

Contact us at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form today to set up a risk-free consultation so that we can review your case and advise you on how to take the next steps toward physical and financial recovery.

We promise to treat you with respect and confidentiality, and we will never ask for payment unless we can collect damages on your behalf.

Client Reviews

Jonathan Rosenfeld was professionally objective, timely, and knowledgeable. Also, his advice was extremely effective regarding my case. In addition, Jonathan was understanding and patient pertaining to any of my questions or concerns. I was very happy with the end result and I highly recommend Jonathan Rosenfeld.

- Michonne Proulx

Extremely impressed with this law firm. They took control of a bad motorcycle crash that left my uncle seriously injured. Without any guarantee of a financial recovery, they went out and hired accident investigators and engineers to help prove how the accident happened. I am grateful that they worked on a contingency fee basis as there was no way we could have paid for these services on our own.

- Ethan Armstrong

Jonathan helped my family heal and get compensation after our child was suffered a life threatening injury at daycare. He was sympathetic and in constant contact with us letting us know all he knew every step of the way. We were so blessed to find Jonathan!

- Giulia

This lawyer really helped me get compensation for my motorcycle accident case. I know there is no way that I could have gotten anywhere near the amount that Mr. Rosenfeld was able to get to settle my case. Thank you.

- Daniel Kaim

Jonathan did a great job helping my family navigate through a lengthy lawsuit involving my grandmother's death in a nursing home. Through every step of the case, Jonathan kept my family informed of the progression of the case. Although our case eventually settled at a mediation, I really was impressed at how well prepared Jonathan was to take the case to trial.

- Lisa
Free Consultation (888) 424-5757