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Lawyer Blog: Baltimore, MD

The Cause of More Deaths Than Takata Airbags


defective-backseatWhat would you say if you knew that a defect in some automobiles has killed more people than Takata’s airbags?

To date, ten people have died because of the Takata airbag defect. But in collapsing seat back accidents during the past 15 years, 17 children have been killed—yet it seems that few people are aware of this fact. A March, 2016, investigation by CBS News identified over 100 persons who have died or suffered severe injuries because of seat back defect failures since 1989. Over half of those affected were children.

Why Are Children Dying?

It turns out that, when a front seat is occupied, the seatback is in danger of collapsing during a rear-impact collision. Various studies have demonstrated that the seatbacks can and do crush children who are in the rear seat. The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) conducted research that found almost 900 deaths between 1990 and 2014 happened to children sitting in the back seat during rear-impact collisions. The CAS was not able to obtain data proving correlation between seatback collapse and death, but its executive director, Clarence Ditlow, wrote that, “While the rear seat is the safest location for a child, it is safer still if the child is placed behind an unoccupied front seat or behind the lightest front-seat occupant.”

Many times, fathers—usually the heaviest person in the car—are driving, with the mother in the passenger seat. In order for the mother to tend to the child in the back seat more easily, the child is generally placed behind the father in the driver’s seat. Being behind the heaviest occupant of the front seat creates the most danger for children.

Mounting Tragedies

Consider some of the heartbreak that might have been avoided if seatback defects had been fixed:

  • In 2010, sixteen-month-old Taylor Warner died when her father’s seatback broke after a rear-ender accident at highway speed.
  • In 2014, thirteen-month-old Weston Kingsley died when a pickup truck rammed the family’s vehicle from behind and his father’s seatback collapsed backwards.
  • In 2012, seven-year-old Jesse Rivera, Jr., ended up with irreversible brain damage after his father’s seatback collapsed during a rear-ender. Jesse, now 11, requires a lifetime of care because of the accident. Because of Jesse’s need for lifelong care, the Riveras sued Audi and received a $124.5 million award.

It might shock you to know that strengthening front seats would cost only a buck or so. So much misery has occurred because of an inexpensive correction that has not been implemented.

What Does the NHTSA Have to Say?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that such accidents are rare, and that they find it difficult to upgrade the standards that would keep seatbacks from collapsing. It’s interesting to note that the NHTSA claims this as fact while not having reviewed the standards since 2004.

Some automakers—Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volvo—have acted on their own to strengthen seatbacks in the hopes of preventing more terrible calamities. While we applaud the three automakers, this action is all that’s been done to fix a problem responsible for many more deaths than the well-publicized airbag fiasco. The risks to those placed in the back seat have not been fully resolved.

We’re listening. How can we help?

If you have been injured due to a defective seatback or another defective part in your vehicle, call Baltimore personal injury attorney Steve Heisler. The compensation you could receive could help you with catastrophic medical bills, ongoing medical care, expensive medication, lost wages, loss of function, and other injuries. With over 25 years of experience helping thousands of injured people, Steve can provide the approachable and professional guidance you need to recover financial reimbursement for your losses. Keep in mind, however, that there is a statute of limitations – or a time limit – in Maryland for filing personal injury claims, so you should not delay. You can reach The Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler at (410) 625-4878 or by using the online contact form, to arrange a no-obligation, no-fee initial consultation.