Rear-end Car Accident Caused Seatback Failure?

This video features Michelle M. West, a Personal Injury attorney based in California.

California Defective Auto Part Lawyer Explains What to Do

Video Transcript:

Michelle West: 

The most important thing is to not panic, tell the insurance company to hold on to that vehicle and get in touch with a good product liability attorney.

Molly Hendrickson: 

In a vehicle crash, the most obvious cause of an injury is probably the crash itself, but what if parts of the car were incorrectly designed or manufactured? We're gonna talk to attorney Michelle West about that on today's Ask the Lawyer. Michelle, thanks for joining us today.

Michelle West: 

Hi, thanks for having me.

Molly Hendrickson: 

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience dealing with car and truck accidents where there was found to be seat back failure?

Michelle West:

Sure. So, unfortunately, we do get these cases and typically it involves a rear impact. What we'll typically see is that the seat will have what we describe as yielding or has gone backwards in the rear impact, so the driver of the vehicle and it's typically the driver, will then... Their body will ramp up along the seat, which the seat is designed to keep that person, that occupant in place. So, if the seat falls back from the crash and yields to the forces of the impact, it can ramp that driver up into the rear of the vehicle, and that is where really horrific injuries can occur, head impacts on the rear of the vehicle, which can cause spinal injuries, unfortunately quadriplegia, and sadly, one of the worst parts about these is that if there is a child, and we know children go in the rear seat, if there's a child in a car seat, unfortunately, if a front seat fails, the occupant of that front seat can be pushed back into the child, and then you have horrible injuries to a child.

Molly Hendrickson: 

That's awful to even even think about. Is it just rear-end collisions where this type of thing occurs, or can it be any type of impact where you can have seat back failure?

Michelle West: 

So typically, the seat back failure is gonna be from a rear impact and sort of seat belts and airbags, we generally think of those generally to prevent injury to the user in a frontal impact, from preventing someone from hitting the steering wheel or hitting other parts of the vehicle. In a rear-end collision, of course, all of the seats and the seat belt and all the airbags work together as the occupant restraint system, but you're typically gonna see a seat back failure in a rear-end collision.

Molly Hendrickson: 

So, how do you know or determine if a car was actually defective if it was in a major accident, or how do you determine if the injuries were just caused by the accident itself?

Michelle West:

Sure, and that's a really good question. So there are standards, obviously, manufacturers are creating their seats to comply with certain standards, and there's the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. In this case, F. M-VSS 207 is a very old standard. And you'll hear often, lawyers who do this work describe a lawn chair, and we're talking a rickety old lawn chair from the '70s, a lawn chair would pass that standard, so it's not a very strong safety standard. Now, there are all different types of internal standards for manufacturers that they use to decide how strong they're gonna make their seats, and when we're looking at a crash and looking at the vehicle to determine if there was a defect, this is a very expert intense type of case.

Michelle West: 

You need to have an accident reconstructionist who can assist on determining what the Delta V or the force of the crash was, then you're gonna need your engineer, your seat engineer, to look at the vehicle and determine what failed on the seat. And sometimes that requires a full inspection with a protocol where we take the cushion and other parts of the seat and have all the parties look at it together so that the engineer can see inside the seat to see what failed. And then also an expert called a bio-mechanic, and a bio-mechanic is going to be able to take witness marks in the vehicle, that means marks from the person's body where it hit inside the vehicle, as well as the medical records to determine, was the seat back collapse or seat failure the cause of the injuries?

Michelle West: 

So it is a complicated multi-expert type of case, but there's really great experts who assist in these type of cases, and you do tend to see sort of the same things, the same way that the seat looks... There can be twisting or bending of the seat, the seat will often be collapsed, and you also see similar injuries unfortunately, like spinal injuries and brain injuries from these type of defects.

Molly Hendrickson: 

So, it sounds like this might be more than your typical insurance claim.

Michelle West: 

That's true. So commonly, what will happen in these type of cases is the driver who rear-ended the vehicle that got hit, that person will typically have an insurance and will resolve that issue with the insurance or that party who hit the victim will then be brought into the case, so there will probably be insurance available. It's often not gonna be adequate to cover the type of lifelong injuries that you would expect in a catastrophic injury case with a seat back failure, which is again, it could be brain injury, spinal cord injury. And so that's why you wanna look at all the possible avenues of recovery for the injured victim, if it's a catastrophic injury case.

Molly Hendrickson: 

And for those watching at home, what should they do if they're in an accident and they suspect that there may have been some mechanical failure? Do they just go to a mechanic or to their insurance company, what are the steps that they should take?

Michelle West: 

No, I would strongly urge, number one is to preserve the vehicle. Victims when they've been in a car crash, they're dealing with a lot, they're worried about bills, they're worried about not having their car, they're worried about the insurance company calling and wanting to sell their car, or if it's totaled, they wanna sell it for salvage. The most important thing is to just slow down and to let the insurance company know that that vehicle needs to be placed on hold and that they are looking for a lawyer. And it's gonna be that vehicle should be on an evidence hold, because the lawyers and the experts need to get access to that vehicle, and they need to be able to look at the vehicle to inspect it and examine it, so that they can determine for the family of the victim whether or not there was a product defect in the case. It's possible there is not a product defect, but they certainly owe it to themselves to get hold of a lawyer, a good product liability lawyer, and get them access to that vehicle. And it's horrible when the vehicle is sold or it's gone, it's possible... Very difficult, to get that vehicle back, but it can be extremely difficult. So the most important thing is to not panic, tell the insurance company to hold on to that vehicle and get in touch with a good product liability attorney who can go look at the vehicle and then properly advise the family.

Molly Hendrickson: 

Preserving that evidence is key. Thank you so much for talking to us today.

Michelle West: 

Thank you.

Molly Hendrickson: 

That's gonna do it for this episode of Ask the lawyer. My guest has been Michelle West. If you wanna ask her about your situation, you can call the number on the screen. Thanks for watching, I'm Molly Hendrickson for Ask The Lawyers.

Disclaimer: This video is for informational purposes only. In some states, this video may be deemed Attorney Advertising. The choice of lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.


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