Seat Belt Injuries

Aug 30

Seat belts are estimated to save the lives of 15,000 Americans every year. With the number of people using seat belts being around 91.6%, many people are safer riding in their vehicles than ever before.

Although vital in protecting us, seat belts can cause serious injuries when they don’t work properly. When you need it most, a seat belt can fail or hurt you due to the force of impact. 

If you have been injured in an accident due to a seat belt, you need the assistance of the car accident attorneys at Blackburn Romey.


National Seat Belt Statistics

In the past forty years, seat belts have saved 374,276 lives. Occupant restraints greatly reduce the risk of severe injuries and death.

Lap and shoulder seat belts reduce the risk of:

  • Front seat passenger deaths by 45%
  • Front seat passenger moderate to critical injuries by 50%
  • Front seat light truck occupant deaths by 60%
  • Front seat light truck occupant moderate to critical injuries by 65% 
  • 2020 data shows that seat belt use was at 90.3%, while 51% of vehicle occupants who died were not buckled up

Even though seat belts have life-saving benefits, we cannot overlook the injuries they may cause. 


Seat Belt Failure

Approximately three million people are injured due to seat belt failure. There are a number of reasons that a seat belt can fail. It may be poorly designed, have manufacturing or material defects, or have been inadequately assembled. No matter the reason, seat belt failure can cause catastrophic injuries.

Examples of seat belt failure:

  • Accidental release: a part of the seat occupant’s arm or elbow may strike the release button unintentionally in a crash
  • False latching: the latch plate may not be fully clicked into the buckle, causing the seat belt to not properly constraining the seat occupant in a crash
  • Webbing failure: the material that the seat belt is composed of may not properly contract in a crash
  • Retractor failure: a seat belt retractor locks upon the force of impact to rotate the spool (around which the belt winds) and to wind up any loose webbing; if the retractor fails, then the seat belt will not properly lock into place in a crash
  • Mounting bracket defect: the rivets that hold the buckle to the mounting bracket may not be formed properly, causing the belt to not adequately restrain a passenger or driver

There is a difference between a malfunction and a defect. While a bug in the seat belt’s mechanics can cause it to malfunction, a defect is a flaw in the seat belt or its design, which reduces its effectiveness.


What are the Most Common Seat Belt Injuries?

Although seat belts greatly reduce the risk of death, injuries still occur due to the level of restraint it places on an individual. In fact, studies have shown that there was no significant statistical difference in head injuries, neck injuries, thoracic injuries, upper limb injuries, and lower limb injuries between those who buckled up and those who were unrestrained.

In a collision, the seat belt transfers the force of impact upon the seat occupant. Due to where the shoulder and lap belt lie, the torso and abdomen are more prone to injuries in a crash. When a car accident victim suffers damage to internal organs due to the seat belt, this is known as “seat belt syndrome.”

Some common seat belt injuries include: 

  • Abrasions and bruises
  • Chest and shoulder fractures
  • Fractured sternum
  • Abdominal pain
  • Injuries to the stomach, bowel, and kidney 
  • Fractured or bruised ribs

The tension of a seat belt will determine your injuries. A tightly secured seat belt can dig into a person’s skin and cause friction burns. This is due to the belt locking suddenly at a high speed. The heat that is created from the blunt trauma can cause redness and skin irritation.


Injuries in Children

Seat belts are primarily designed for adults and have been shown to be less effective in protecting children. 

In the United States, children are allowed to use seat belts when they weigh at least 40 pounds. However, it is recommended that children do not begin using a seat belt until they are between the ages of 9 and 12.

There are certain factors associated with seat belt usage in children. First of all, since children weigh significantly less, the seat belt may not properly tighten upon impact, causing the seat belt webbing to not stretch. 

With the seat belt webbing not stretching, the child’s head will be jerked forward more abruptly, causing whiplash and possible injuries to the neck vertebrae.

Secondly, children may slide underneath the lap belt, or “submarine,” during a crash. This is due to a child’s pelvis not being fully developed, resulting in the lap belt resting too high on the child’s abdomen. 

Finally, a child has more rib cage flexibility. This means that the impact of a crash will more likely affect internal organs.

Seat Belt Injuries


How to Prevent Seat Belt Injuries in Children

To reduce the risk of injury, it is important that your seat belt fits snuggly. Since children are more susceptible to injury due to their short stature, it is crucial to make sure that the seat belt properly fits them.

Seat belts can vary from one car to the next. You will want to check every vehicle to see if your child should use a booster seat or if they can upgrade to a seat belt. It is recommended that children take the Safety Belt Fit Test to determine the right option for them.

The Safety Belt Fit Test has three parts:

  1. Check knees and feet: with a child’s back against the rear of the seat, a child’s     knees should bend at the edge of the seat
  2. Check the lap belt: the lap belt should fit securely around the child’s hips or upper     thighs
  3. Check the shoulder belt: the shoulder belt should fit across the shoulder and   chest, not across the face or neck

A child who does not meet this criteria is not ready to upgrade to a seat belt and should still use a booster seat until they have grown.


When Should I Seek Medical Treatment?

If you have been in a crash, you may not realize that you have suffered any injuries until a few hours have passed.

You should seek medical treatment if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Dark or bloody stool
  • Swelling or discoloration
  • Flank pain (could signify damage to the kidneys)
  • Weakness in the legs

Any of these symptoms could signify more serious problems. Seeking medical treatment can make the difference between life and death. 


Compensatory Damages

A person who has suffered losses or injuries in an accident may be entitled to receive compensation in order to make themselves “whole” again. Based on what losses the injured party has suffered, the individual can request relief from the court. 

The law recognizes that some damages have a direct monetary value. These are known as economic damages.

Examples of economic damages:

  • Past and future earnings
  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Rehabilitative equipment
  • Home services
  • Repairs to vehicle

In contrast, other damages are not associated with a specific price, but they affect a person’s quality of life. This category is known as non-economic damages. 

Examples of non-economic damages:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium
  • Disfigurement
  • Emotional distress

An experienced car accident lawyer will know what relief to request from the court based on your situation.


Liability for Seat Belt Injuries

Any time a seat belt fails to work properly and injures a vehicle occupant, the manufacturer or distributor of the seat belt may be responsible for your losses. If a driver of another vehicle caused the accident, they may be liable for your injuries as well.


How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?

According to Indiana law for all personal injury actions, you have two years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit. You will not be allowed to take legal action after the two years have passed in most circumstances.


A Diligent Indianapolis Car Accident Attorney 

If you or a loved one have suffered seat belt syndrome or another injury from a seatbelt that failed to work properly, you need an attorney who will look for answers. Blackburn Romey is ready to help you during this trying time. We will make it our mission to recover fair compensation for your injuries. Contact us today to request your free consultation.


Tom Blackburn

Blackburn Romey founding partner Tom Blackburn graduated with honors receiving a degree from Indiana University at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Initiating his legal career in 1977, he has been active in practicing law and currently serves as a member of the Indiana State Bar Association on the Ethics and Advertising Committees, the American Bar Association, the American Association for Justice, as a board member at the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, and as an appointed member of the Executive Committee for the State of Indiana for the National Trial Lawyers Association.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by Founding Partner, Tom Blackburn, who has more than 47 years of legal experience, including over 39 years specializing as a personal injury attorney.