Our client, who was driving his car and wearing his seatbelt, suffered a severe thoracic spinal cord injury when his vehicle was rear ended. Rather than his seat protecting him and restraining his torso in place, he was propelled backwards into the rear seat of his car because the driver’s seatback had collapsed, and the head restraint became dislodged. This caused him to be projected into the rear seat, resulting in his injuries. Jaime Jackson Law successfully sued the vehicle manufacturer for the defective design of the driver’s seating system resulting in resulting in a seatback collapse spinal injury.
The dynamics of a seatback collapse
This case exemplified what has become all too common on America’s highways: seatback collapse coupled with the failure of the head restraint in a rear impact collision.
Dynamically, what happened in our client’s case was when the vehicle was rear-ended, the head restraint became dislodged from the seat and the rear of the driver’s seatback collapsed, contacting the rear seat behind the driver, leaving marks. The seatback itself was twisted inboard and the right side of the frame buckled.
The seatback collapse coupled with the failure of the head restraint meant that our client “ramped up” the driver’s seatback leaving visible abrasions on the seatback. These failures of the seating system allowed our client’s (now unrestrained) torso to hit the seatback, leaving load marks on the seatback of the rear seat and deforming the seat frame. As a result of the missing head restraint, our client’s upper torso ramped up and over the seatback while his lower torso interacted with the seatback, increasing the tension/hyperextension and causing thoracic spinal cord injuries.
Successful defective design argument
Jaime Jackson Law argued the seat and head restraint system was defective in design, that the head restraint should never have pulled out and dislodged, and to do so was a failure to comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS 201).
As to the collapse of the seatback, for decades, safety engineers have written about the inherent risks associated with rear-end collisions and seat collapse. There are many safety risks and dangers associated with weak seat backs, including:
- The driver will lose control when their seat collapses rearward;
- The seat belt can no longer hold the driver in the seat; and
- The driver and/or front seat occupant is thrown rearward and either impacts the back seat, occupants in the back seat (for example, a child in a car seat), or is ejected out of the car.
Clearly, ordinary consumers and purchasers of vehicles, like our client, do not expect the head restraint to become dislodged and the seatback to collapse in this type of rear impact.
Jaime Jackson Law successfully argued, had this vehicle been designed to include a substantially stronger seatback and had a head restraint that remained in place, our client would have stayed in their seat, the seat belt would have done its job of properly restraining him, and he would have not hyperextended over the seatback.