This case involved a vehicle seat back collapse and the defective design of a driver’s seating system. The vehicle was rear ended and the driver, who was wearing his seatbelt, was projected into the rear seat when his seat back collapsed rearward. We claimed the design of the seating system was too weak.
How a seat back should restrain its occupant
In a rear impact, the seating system is the restraint system. The protection that an occupant has is the seat back and head rest behind them. Therefore, the design of the seat should be strong enough to keep the occupant upright within the safe confines of the seat. The seat is an occupant restraint and should not collapse rearward in a rear impact. Much like a seatbelt prevents an occupant from moving forward in a frontal collision, the seat should perform the same function in a rear collision and prevent the occupant from striking the interior of the vehicle.
Unfortunately, many of the front seats in vehicles on America’s highways are not up to the task of protecting people in rear impacts. When a seat back collapses, the occupant may slide out from under the seatbelt, up the seat back, and into the rear seat. When this happens, they can strike their head and spine, resulting in significant brain injury, paralysis, or death. Further, if there is a child seated in the rear seat, collapse of the seat back can result in disastrous occupant-to-occupant contact between the child and the front seat occupant.
In this case, the manufacturer was held liable for the defective seat back design, offering closure to the family of the driver.