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How Car Seat Deficiencies Contribute to Traumatic Brain Injuries

Between 64 million and 74 million people each year suffer from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), a quarter of which are caused by motor vehicle accidents (Lyons). These injuries change the lives of victims and their families forever. TBIs not only require significant treatment at the time of injury but a lifetime of care and rehabilitation. The occurrence of these devastating injuries can be reduced with proper motor vehicle safety features.

For those who survive one, it can be a struggle to walk, read, feel emotion, or to communicate. A traumatic brain injury forever changes the lives of millions of families around the world. Their experience speaks to the importance of improving motor vehicle safety.

Front occupant seats and head restraints are critical to motor vehicle safety in rear impacts. They are designed to contain the occupant in the front seat to prevent injury during a collision. Defective front seats can fail to contain the passenger and catapult them into the rear of the vehicle, creating danger for all passengers.

Unfortunately, rear impact safety ratings only focus on low-speed performance and whiplash. They do not test rear safety at higher speeds, meaning a vehicle can receive a 5-star rating despite having defective seats.

There are two primary types of front seat failures. The first is a failure of the seat itself. In most cases, the seat stays intact but fails to successfully contain the passenger in the seat. Often a weak seat propels backward, endangering the front and back seat passengers. Recliner seats are susceptible to unlatching, causing the seat to collapse. The seat can no longer absorb energy from the impact to protect the passenger.

The second, and more common, type of seat failure is a headrest failure. Some rear impacts result in a broken or pulled-out headrest. The rear impact propels the seat forward, the passenger’s head adds pressure to the headrest, and defective headrests may fail. Without headrest support, passengers face a higher risk of spinal injuries and TBIs.

Federal standards regarding seat back safety have lagged behind other areas of automotive safety, with standards remaining unchanged since the 1960s. A lawn chair is able to pass the current pull test seatbacks undergo. Since 1974, multiple efforts have aimed to improve the standards but failed due to lobbying auto manufacturers.

The long fight to improve safety standards is worthwhile for the millions of victims of TBI injuries like the Lyons family. Unsafe front seats harm millions each year and impact their loved ones. Failure to update standards proves we cannot rely on the government to protect us. We must investigate TBI, and spinal injuries caused by rear crashes to ensure victims and their families receive justice.  Our firm has been fortunate to speak on TBI matters at bar association and medical professional conferences across the country, and we are happy to provide no-obligation consultations on these or any cases at any time.