Injuries Suffered as the Result of a Defective Airbag — Are You Entitled to Sue?

Airbags are critical to the safety of both drivers and passengers in the event of an accident (and in fact, some motorcycles even provide frontal airbags as an option when purchasing).  The introduction of airbags to American automotive culture has generally been considered a net positive, despite some hiccups along the way.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), reported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 44,869 lives have been saved by frontal airbags as of 2015, while 2,252 lives have been saved by side airbags as of 2012.

Though airbags are a safety device, the potential for injury caused by or exacerbated by a defective airbag is significant.  For maximum effectiveness, an airbag must deploy in a very particular manner during a very narrow window of time.  The NHTSA estimates that — in low speed crashes alone — there were 290 fatalities caused by frontal airbag deployment from 1990 to 2008.  Many of fatalities and serious injuries associated with frontal airbags during that period were due to the excessive force of airbag deployment, though there were (and continue to be) many other reasons for airbag-related injuries.

If you have been injured due to an airbag deploying in a hazardous manner, or perhaps because an airbag simply failed to deploy, then Arizona law may entitle you to compensation for your injuries pursuant to a defective product claim.  Product liability law in Arizona operates somewhat similarly to that of other states.  Let’s take a brief look at how it works.

Product Liability Fundamentals

In Arizona, as in many other states, those injured by a defective product — stated in simple terms, a product that is unreasonably dangerous to those who use the product in a foreseeable manner — are entitled to sue the manufacturer of the product (and, ostensibly, those in the chain of distribution) to recover damages.  Product liability in Arizona makes manufacturers strictly liable for the injuries caused by their defective products.  As a plaintiff, you do not have to prove that the manufacturer negligently created a defective product, such as a defective airbag that failed to deploy — you need only prove that the manufacturer created a defective product.

Proving that the manufacturer created and distributed a defective product is not a simple, straightforward matter.  Your attorney will have to show that the product was unreasonably dangerous given the circumstances.

A plaintiff may show that a product is defective through the consumer expectations test or the risk/benefit analysis test (each may be applicable or inapplicable in different circumstances).  In the consumer expectations test, if a product fails to perform as an ordinary consumer would reasonably expect it to perform, then the product would be deemed defective.  In the risk/benefit analysis test, if the injury risks resulting from a product’s design outweigh the benefits of the design, then the product would be deemed defective.

For example, in a defective airbag case involving an assertion of defective design, if it were revealed that the airbag manufacturer used cheaper materials to save 3% on their manufacturing costs, but this resulted in a 50% spike in fatal accidents, then the airbag would likely be deemed defective under a risk/benefit analysis test.

There are three major types of product liability claims in Arizona.

Design defect claims are brought on the basis that the design of the product exposes foreseeable users to an unreasonable risk of injury.

Manufacturing defect claims are generally limited to “batches” of a product.  A manufacturing defect claim might assert that, due to some mishap or mistake in the factory, the airbag at-issue was made with a defect that caused it to deploy with excessive force.

In a failure to warn claim, the plaintiff asserts that the product at-issue exposes users to an inherent risk of injury, and that the defendant failed to warn users of this inherent risk and provide instructions on how to avoid it.

Defective airbag claims can be incredibly difficult to litigate, not only due to the inherent complications of litigation involving a complex product (i.e., factual issues, the need to retain industry experts, etc.), but also because the defendant is often a corporate entity with significant financial and industry clout.  To maximize your chance of success, it’s important to work with a qualified Phoenix car accident lawyer who has experience litigating defective airbag claims and other product liability claims.  Call (602) 535-1900 to setup a free consultation with one of the experienced accident lawyers at Hirsch & Lyon today.