Head to Toes Injury Guide: Torso Injuries and Safety Restraints

Jay Stillman

3 min read

New report: 90 Million More Airbag Recalls

Public Domain Image via Wikimedia Commons

Our last post covered the painful subject of back problems—something we at Stillman and Friedland see a lot of in our practice. This post covers injuries to the torso, mostly due to seat belts and airbags. At the outset we want to say that these devices save lives. Especially when we are discussing babies and children, child restraints prevent tragedies. As we have noted many times in our posts, every parent must educate their kids that seat belts must be fastened or no one is going anywhere!

However, there are “side effects” to seat belt and airbag use. We say “side effects”, not “downside”. When a restraint keeps you from going through the windshield, you will likely get a bruise or injury from the safety device. We will look separately at seat belts and airbags.
Responsible drivers using seat belts should be aware that injuries from seat belts, your primary safety device, include bruising of the ribcage and possible fracture of the sternum (the breastbone at the center of the ribcage). In some cases, accident victims have even suffered from cardiac bruising, although this is very rare. Another possibility is abdominal injury, including intestinal injuries. If you have unusual pain, gut or other irregularities after an accident, get this checked out before bruises fade.

The main danger in these cases is failure to diagnose, or late diagnosis. This is yet another reason that we always recommend both a visit to the hospital for a comprehensive evaluation after an injury and waiting until you have been fully treated before you settle your case.

Regarding airbags, results depend on circumstances. Counter indications to airbags include:

  1. Passenger body size and proximity to the steering wheel, as well as physical condition
  2. Design flaws leading to recalls—an unsafe device

In the first case, if you have a child in the front seat, or if the driver is under 5’4” and 120 lbs, or if osteoporosis has thinned the bones of your ribcage, an airbag can be dangerous. If you drive hunched over the steering wheel, with your torso less than 10 inches from the steering wheel, this also increases your chance of injury from inflation of the airbag. Your car dealer can deactivate the airbag if you feel the risk of air bag inflation is greater than the possible benefit.

Remember, the airbag is an add-on to the seat belt, which is your primary safeguard in the event of an accident.

Regarding airbag recalls, only yesterday Reuters reported that as many as 90 million more airbags may be recalled due to the use of a volatile chemical that may fragment the parts and spew them like shrapnel on inflation. This is a very big story, and a major headache for the manufacturer Takata, which was exposed by its own employees for continuing to produce defective devices despite known dangers.

While airbags can and do save lives, their benefit is greatest for the most severe accidents—and severity is something we don’t get to choose.

Ultimately, the decision to use them or not should be based in factual evaluation.

Your first step should be to find out if a product recall applies. Secondly, assess if you have a higher risk of injuries because of your physical size or condition, or that of your usual front-seat passengers.

If you can, put kids only in the back seat.

Takeaway point: While both seat belts and airbags prevent you from slamming into the steering wheel and windshield, the seat belt is your primary safety device. Relying on airbags alone is a bad idea—always buckle up, and then make an educated decision regarding airbag use, based on your limitations and those of your passengers.

In the event that you feel your injuries may be more extensive than what was seen in a first check, go back to your health provider, and get a re-assessment right away. Severe internal injuries, while rare, can result from restraints and must be treated. Treatment for these injuries will be included in your recovery of damages as well as pain and suffering.

Buckle up! Stillman and Friedland wish you happy, and most of all, safe travels.

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