This case involves a woman who was driving her mid-sized sedan southbound on a New York roadway. When the woman reached an intersection with another road, she began to make a left turn onto the eastbound road. As the woman turned, she was hit by a northbound car that had the right-of-way. On impact, the driver-side airbag deployed with so much force that it left the woman with a severe skull fracture. The woman sustained a brain hemorrhage, a broken arm, and a bruised knee from being hit so hard by the airbag. The airbag deployment also left the woman with an extremely diminished balance and cognitive defects, including memory loss as the result of the brain hemorrhage. The woman was 5’4” and was in her fifties when the accident happened. Because of the woman’s short stature, she usually drove her car sitting close to the steering wheel.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What could cause the driver-side airbag in a car to deploy after an accident with so much force that it causes brain damage to a driver?
Expert Witness Response
Manufacturers of cars made after 1994 are required by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 U.S.C. §§ 30101 et.seq.) and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208 to affix an airbag warning label to one side of the sun visor in all cars that they manufacture. This regulation requires that the manufacturer affix the warning label to either side, but not both sides, of each sun visor that is above a seat with an airbag restraint. The manufacturers are also required to include warning information about airbags in owner manuals. This regulation requires that manufacturers’ airbag warnings be consistent in their content. Most of the airbag warning labels on cars usually state that the driver “should always wear a seatbelt” and also state that the driver “should not lean or sit unnecessarily close to the airbag.” The main problem that occurs with these warnings is that many drivers do not see them, because they are located inconspicuously on the sun visor. This is a problem because many drivers will not understand the warnings completely or may not have the chance to be directed to the owner’s manual for further instructions about airbag safety. Another problem with airbags is that there have been many cases where they have deployed upon impact and injured short-statured drivers. The manufacturer in this case should have put the warning in a more obvious place and should have included more information in the airbag warning on the sun visor. The manufacturer should have included a statement that short-statured people should make sure that the driver’s seat is moved back as far as possible from the airbag. Also, the manufacturer should have included a statement that short-statured drivers, like the woman in this case, should keep at least 10 inches between their breastbone and the airbag in order to avoid being injured by the airbag if it deploys after an accident.