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Can I Still File a Car Accident Claim if the Airbags Never Deployed?

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

According to the Michigan State Police’s Traffic Crash Annual Report, there were 293,341 crashes on Michigan’s roads in 2022, including 1,053 fatal crashes. In total, these accidents have resulted in 1,123 fatalities and 70,281 injuries.

Over the years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated using safety systems in car manufacturing to help make the roads safer. The airbag is considered one of the most essential modern car safety systems, credited with saving over 50,000 lives in the last 30 years.

However, the consequences can be devastating if the airbag fails to deploy or doesn’t work in a collision. Airbag failures and malfunctions can result in severe injuries or death for all occupants in the car, potentially making it more dangerous instead of safer in a crash.

If you have been in an auto accident and suffered injuries due to the airbag’s failure to deploy, consult our car accident attorneys at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. as soon as possible. We can review your case and advise you on filing a claim for an airbag that didn’t deploy in an accident lawsuit.

How Do Airbags Work?

Airbags are crucial safety features in vehicles that protect you in a collision. When your vehicle hits another object, like another car, sensors detect the impact and quickly send a signal to the airbag system.

This initiates a chemical reaction that inflates the airbag in just a fraction of a second, creating a cushion that prevents your body and head from hitting the dashboard, steering wheel, or windshield. This quick activation helps lessen the likelihood of injuries during an accident.

Airbags have been mandated by law for all new vehicles following legislation passed in the early 1990s. Specifically, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 and regulations set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) require that all cars manufactured in the U.S., starting from model year 1998 onwards, be equipped with front seat airbags.

These measures ensure that vehicles are equipped with essential safety features to protect passengers during crashes.

When are Airbags Supposed to Deploy?

When designed and implemented correctly, airbags deploy in specific collisions to protect the lives of the vehicle’s occupants. Generally, airbags inflate when there is a high risk of the occupants’ heads and bodies hitting the vehicle’s interior to minimize the impact and limit the risk of injuries. Airbags are intended to deploy under the following circumstances:

  • Frontal impacts. The frontal crash is the type of collision airbags are most commonly designed to protect against. For instance, if the front end of your vehicle strikes the rear of another car or a stationary object, your body and head are likely to be thrust forward violently toward the steering wheel or dashboard. Airbags deploy upon impact to cushion the blow and mitigate injuries.
  • Frontal-angle collisions. Most modern vehicles are equipped with angle airbags, which protect you in case of a frontal-angle collision. These airbags activate in case of a crash with an object ahead of your vehicle but not a direct front-end crash. For example, if you cross an intersection and another vehicle hits your front-left angle, the corresponding airbags may deploy to cushion your head and body.
  • Side impacts. The side curtain airbag can protect you in a side crash. If your vehicle is fitted with this type of airbag, it will deploy if involved in a T-bone crash or a side collision with a tree, pole, or fixed object. They are called curtain airbags because they activate from the top down, above your door. Side curtain airbags shield the head from impacts with door windows, reducing the risk of cuts or penetrating injuries.
  • Rollover crashes. Many cars are fitted with rollover detection sensors and ceiling-mounted variants of the curtain airbag. These models are designed to deploy when the vehicle is about to roll over on one of its sides or the roof. They ensure the occupants’ bodies land on a softer object as the car flips and turns, limiting injuries.

When are Airbags Not Meant to Deploy?

While airbags are designed to activate rapidly in many collisions, there are certain circumstances where they are not meant to. Here’s when you should not expect airbags to deploy:

  • Rear-end impacts. Most airbag systems are designed to activate in front, front-angle, or side collisions. If your vehicle has been rear-ended, your airbags shouldn’t deploy because your seats and seat belts should already provide you with protection.
  • Low-speed impacts. Even if a collision occurs from the appropriate angle, your airbags will not activate if it is at low speed. Modern vehicles have sensors that detect and assess the impact energy, considering the impact angle and the object’s size. The airbags will deploy only if the impact energy surpasses a specific threshold.

    According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), front airbags activate when the impact is equivalent to hitting a wall at 10 to 16 mph or higher. Side airbags must deploy more quickly; impact force corresponding to speeds as low as 8 mph can cause side airbag deployment.

  • No seated passenger. Many vehicles have sensors capable of detecting if the seat has an occupant. If the seat was unoccupied at the time of the accident, the corresponding airbag may not deploy.
  • Child passenger. Some more advanced airbag sensors can detect the height and weight of a passenger and estimate whether they could be a child. Due to their shorter stature, deploying an airbag on a child passenger can be dangerous.

    Airbags can smother the chest or airways, creating a risk of suffocation. If the sensors detect the passenger is likely to be a child, they may prevent the airbags from activating on impact to reduce the safety risks.

  • Manually turned off. Most airbag systems developed since the 1990s feature manual switches, allowing you to turn them off. They will not deploy if you have manually disabled their functions.
  • Already deployed. Airbags are one-use and must be replaced after deployment. If your vehicle has been in a previous collision and you haven’t replaced the airbags, they will not deploy again if you are involved in a second crash.

What Defects Stop Airbags Deploying?

If an airbag fails to deploy despite your vehicle being involved in an accident where it should have, it may be defective, potentially leading to severe injuries. Common types of airbag defects include:

  • Manufacturing defects. A defect in the manufacturing process of your airbag may prevent it from deploying correctly on impact. For example, improperly assembled components, weak seams, or flawed bag inflator systems can cause deployment issues.
  • Age and degradation. While airbags are generally designed to last for the vehicle’s entire duration, older models may have aged and become less reliable. Many airbag components can lose their original qualities or degrade over time.

    For instance, airbag fabric or the inflator system’s seams can weaken after years of exposure to the elements, increasing the risk of failure. The chemicals in the inflator system, such as sodium azide, can also degrade, become unstable over time, or lose their effectiveness, resulting in slower deployment.

  • Sensor failure. Airbags can only deploy if they receive an electrical signal that tells them to do so. Cars have various sensors to detect vehicle speed and impact forces during a collision. If the sensors detect impact forces exceeding their threshold, they should send a deployment signal to the airbags.

    A sensor malfunction can cause the airbags to fail to deploy even if they are in otherwise good condition. Potential causes include failure to detect a collision, reading incorrect impact forces, or having improperly programmed thresholds.

  • Electrical or wiring defect. Sometimes, the issue lies not with the airbag or sensor but the connecting wiring and systems. Sensors send signals to airbags via electrical wires.

    If these wires are damaged, defective, broken, or otherwise compromised, the airbags may not receive signals from the sensors. This can lead to airbags failing to deploy in a collision despite the sensors functioning correctly.

Car Crash With Airbag Deployed

Who is Liable When Airbags Do Not Deploy?

When an airbag fails to deploy or causes you harm due to inflating incorrectly, who can you hold responsible for the damages? Our car accident attorneys at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. can investigate your case to determine if one of the following parties’ negligence contributed to the crash:

  • Vehicle manufacturer. Your car’s manufacturer could be responsible for an airbag failure if it does not meet proper safety, design, or manufacturing standards. For example, your model has faulty sensors, a manufacturing defect, or an unsafe design preventing the appropriate deployment of airbags.
  • Airbag manufacturer. If your vehicle was equipped with faulty or defective airbags, our car accident lawyers can pursue a claim against the airbag system manufacturer. Issues such as manufacturing defects, substandard parts, or flawed design can make the airbag manufacturer liable for your injuries.

    A well-known example is the ongoing Takata airbag recall, which affected cars manufactured by over 30 brands from 2002 to 2015. Affected airbags are known to deploy incorrectly or explode when inflated. As of January 2024, they have caused over 400 injuries and 26 deaths.

  • Liable third party. Third parties other than the carmaker or airbag manufacturer, such as a mechanic, service provider, or dealership, could be responsible for an airbag failure. For example, if you serviced your vehicle before a collision, your auto accident lawyer could hold the mechanic liable if their repairs impacted the airbag system.

What Kind of Injuries Do Defective Airbags Cause?

Car accidents can result in serious injuries, such as brain trauma, spinal cord damage, and soft-tissue injuries. Faulty airbags can add to these injuries by not protecting you from the impact as intended or by causing further damage. Defective airbag injuries can include:

  • Brain injury. Faulty airbags can deploy with excessive force or at incorrect times, leading to a head impact. This can result in concussions or more severe brain injuries if your head is thrown against the steering wheel or dashboard.
  • Facial injuries. If an airbag fails to inflate correctly or inflates too rapidly, it can cause direct trauma to your face, resulting in lacerations, bruising, or fractures of facial bones.
  • Internal injuries. An airbag that activates with too much force can also cause internal injuries. The sudden and forceful expansion can put severe pressure on the chest and abdomen, leading to injuries such as internal bleeding or organ damage.
  • Broken bones. The impact from a malfunctioning airbag can break bones, especially in the arms or hands, as they may be in front of the airbag when it deploys. Excessive force can also fracture ribs or facial bones.
  • Puncture wounds. Components of the airbag system, like the casing or other fragmented parts, can become projectiles if the airbag deploys improperly. These fragments can cause puncture wounds or other penetrating injuries.

If you suffered an injury in a car accident because the airbags didn’t open or because of an airbag malfunction, seek medical attention. Even if you think your injuries are minor, consult your doctor. Minor injuries can lead to significant pain and disability for days, weeks, or months following a car crash.

How Do You Prove Liability After Airbags Do Not Deploy During a Crash?

Proving liability after a crash where an airbag didn’t inflate can be complex. Our car accident attorneys can help you identify the type of liability claim to file and determine what’s needed to prove your case and win compensation.

Your car accident claim may fall under product liability law, negligence laws, or breach of warranty statutes:

Type of Claim What to Prove Evidence Needed
Design Defect This product liability claim argues that the airbag had an inherent flaw in its design that made it unsafe when used as intended. Engineering reports, expert testimony on airbag design standards, and evidence of safer alternative designs available at the time.
Manufacturing Defect Asserts that the airbag, although properly designed, was manufactured incorrectly, leading to its failure. This also falls under product liability. Inspection records from the manufacturing process, expert analysis of the airbag, and documentation of deviations from design specifications.
Failure to Warn Another type of product liability claim involves claims that the manufacturer did not provide sufficient instructions or warnings about the risks of the airbag. Marketing materials, product labels, user manuals, and expert testimony on industry standards for warnings and instructions.
Negligence Alleges that the manufacturer breached a duty of care to the consumer by failing to ensure the product’s safety. Accident reports, witness statements, expert testimony on industry safety standards, and evidence of negligence in design or manufacturing processes.
Breach of Warranty Claims that the airbag did not meet the quality or safety standards promised by the manufacturer. Sales contract, warranty documentation, expert testimony comparing the product’s performance to warranty claims.

How Can I Gather Evidence for My Car Accident Case?

To prove damages from an airbag failure, you need evidence demonstrating that the airbags did not function properly during the collision. The statute of limitations for product liability claims in Michigan is three years. Contact our attorneys as soon as possible after a crash so we can help you collect the following evidence to strengthen your case:

  • Obtain complete evidence of the crash. Document as much evidence of the accident scene as possible, including photos and videos of the crash. Take pictures of the impact areas and the vehicle’s interior to further document the damage and demonstrate which airbags failed to deploy.
  • Get a copy of the police report. Obtain a copy of the police report for your accident. It may contain valuable information, such as the date, time, location, and accident description from the police’s point of view. These details can support your claim and help you get fair compensation.
  • Obtain and conserve your medical records. Collect and make copies of all medical records associated with your accident injuries, including doctor’s notes, prescription details, X-rays, imaging scans, and records from emergency room visits and surgeries. Preserve any ongoing treatment or rehabilitation records, like physical therapy notes or caregiver documentation.

    These medical records are crucial for establishing a connection between the airbag failure and your injuries and illustrating the extent of those injuries.

  • Request a complete vehicle inspection. After the accident, contact a mechanic or a vehicle safety expert and request a complete vehicle inspection. Ask them to note any observations about your airbag based on their expertise, such as what prevented it from opening or deploying incorrectly.

Our legal team can connect you with accident reconstruction experts, medical specialists, and automotive engineers whose expertise will strengthen your case and help you secure the maximum compensation possible.

What Damages Can You Collect When Airbags Fail to Deploy During a Car Collision?

As a victim of an auto accident, you are entitled to various forms of compensation when another party is at fault. Our legal team is dedicated to fighting for a comprehensive settlement on your behalf, covering medical expenses and other losses arising from injuries caused by a malfunctioning airbag.

  • Medical costs. Covers all expenses for accident-related treatments, including emergency room visits, hospitalization, surgeries, medications, physical therapy, and long-term care.

    Partner attorney Eileen Kroll, with her dual background as a registered nurse and lawyer, will clearly connect your injuries to the airbag malfunction and show their effects. She uses these medical insights in court or during insurance negotiations to ensure a settlement fully covering your medical costs.

  • Lost wages. Compensation for lost wages reimburses you for the income you couldn’t earn because of your injuries. This includes wages from shifts you missed during recovery and potential future earnings if your ability to work has been permanently impacted.
  • Pain and suffering. Compensates for the physical pain and emotional distress suffered due to the accident and subsequent injuries. We calculate your pain and suffering based on the injuries’ impact on your quality of life using personal journals, psychiatric evaluations, and testimony from family and friends about your lifestyle changes and disposition.
  • Wrongful death. If a malfunctioning airbag caused your loved one’s wrongful death, you may be entitled to wrongful death damages. These can cover loss of financial support, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of companionship or consortium.

Consult a Lawyer if You’ve Been Injured by a Faulty Airbag

If you’ve been injured by a defective airbag, contact a personal injury lawyer at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. to explore your legal options. With a successful history of securing maximum settlements for accident victims, our experienced product liability attorneys are committed to fighting for the compensation you deserve.

Don’t wait—ensure your rights are protected and get the settlement you need. Schedule a free consultation with a car accident attorney at our law firm today! We’ll handle all negotiations with the insurance company and the opposing counsel so you can concentrate on your recovery.

Our contingency fee basis means we only get paid if we win your case, so there is no financial risk to you to get started. Call our law firm today at 1-866-MICH-LAW  and schedule your no-obligation, free case evaluation.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Brendan Beaumont is an experienced copywriter known for creating detailed, easy-to-read legal articles. He simplifies complex legal concepts, making them accessible to a broad audience.



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