Seat belts have saved a lot of lives and mitigated untold serious injuries in the nearly 50 years they have been in use. When combined with air bags, the rates of injury and death drop even further. Without a seat belt, you can be ejected and crushed during a rollover, or hit the windshield with enough force to go through it. In both situations, the fatality rate is high.
And yet, despite any number of improvements, seat belts can and do still cause injury to drivers and passengers. Here’s why: In an accident, the forces at play can be substantial. At 30 miles per hour, a 160-pound human can hit the seat belt with a force of 2.4 tons—that’s nearly 5,000 pounds upon impact. The impact force increases the faster your car is traveling. The higher the force of impact, the greater the chances of injury.
These forces can turn you and twist you against the very belts that are supposed to protect you and can injure you, even if you wear your seat belt correctly. The chances of harm multiply if you wear your belt incorrectly (such as moving it under your arm or placing it behind your back), or if the seat belt has a defect.
When Things Go Wrong
When it comes to seat belts, there are basically two varieties: the lap belt, or two-point restraint, and the shoulder belt, or three-point restraint. All new cars these days have only three-point restraints.
However, a number of older cars have only lap belts in the center back seats of larger vehicles, especially minivans and larger cars. Because children are small, they are often the ones buckled into the middle seats. Because of this fact, the results in an accident can be catastrophic: In one case, a four-year-old’s head was thrown forward, hitting the front-seat console and breaking her neck. While the family sued the automaker in question and settled out of court, obviously no amount of money can make up for dealing with a permanently injured child.
Before you think that lap belt injuries are a thing of the past, think again. Many, many older cars are still in use. Services that use buses and vans usually have only lap belts installed. And sometimes you can sustain lap belt injuries even if you are wearing a shoulder belt, especially if the belt is defective.
Lap belt injuries, caused by jackknifing over the belt upon impact, can be catastrophic and may include the following:
- Severe abdominal trauma, including abdominal aortic dissections (often fatal), and internal tears and perforations of the small bowel and colon
- Spinal fractures, especially horizontal ones in the lumbar (lower) spine
- Serious closed-head, facial, and neck injuries, including fractures.
Organs that are damaged usually include the liver, kidney, spleen, intestines, or stomach. Surgery is often required to make things right.
Three-point restraint injuries, however, can be just as serious, and generally happen to three areas of the body:
- The chest (thoracic injury), meaning fractures of the breastbone and ribs
- The shoulders, often involving joint damage and collarbone fractures
- The neck, including the carotid artery (which can trigger a stroke), the larynx, and fractures of the cervical spine.
A number of more minor injuries to the upper body and arms, such as contusions and abrasions, can take place as well. In addition, head trauma can occur if you wear your seat belt incorrectly, or if your belt is defective.
Symptoms to Watch for After an Accident
If you have been in a serious car accident, even if you have received treatment, be aware that the following symptoms could mean you have sustained significant injury from your seat belt:
- Abdominal or stomach pain that does not fade
- Blood in your stools or urine, or any unusual bleeding
- Leg weakness, which can indicate spinal problems
- Pain, stiffness, or discomfort in your neck or chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Any sudden and extreme pain in your torso, which could indicate aortic dissection
- The abrupt onset of other symptoms, such as dizziness or fainting, severe headache, vomiting, or difficulty moving in a normal fashion.
Defective Seat Belts
Like any other part of a car, seat belts can be defective and cause harm. The many recalls investigated by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration over the years attests to this fact. Some examples of things that can go wrong include:
- The seat belt does not fasten properly, releasing during an accident.
- The seat belt breaks.
- The seat belt fits loosely, causing unnecessary movement during an accident and increasing the forces exerted on the body.
- The seat belt is poorly designed.
Often there is no way to know what went wrong unless the many elements of a crash are examined after the fact. Because claims involving defective products can be complicated, it is a good idea to have experienced legal assistance to guide you.
When life goes wrong, we fight for what’s right.
The South Carolina car accident lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm have represented injured South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. With our firm on the case, you can rest assured that you’ll get the personalized attention you deserve. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in an auto accident, whether because of a seat belt or other cause, it’s important to make sure that you understand your legal rights. Defective automotive cases require a thorough investigation by an experienced legal team to determine which individuals and companies should be named as defendants and which legal theories should be pursued. South Carolina law can be complex, and the deadline for filing a claim is already running, so contact us for help today by calling our toll-free number at (803) 454-1200. You can also fill out our online contact form. Louthian Law Firm. On the case. Around the clock.