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Seat Back Collapse Litigation: Alive and Well

Seat Back Collapse Litigation: Alive and Well

During the past several months, our firm has reviewed several new potential cases involving seat back collapse. These cases all involved relatively late model vehicles where the seat backs collapsed in a moderate speed rear end crash, resulting in severe spinal cord injuries.

Seat back collapse litigation has been ongoing between injured consumers and the automobile industry for at least thirty years. Despite decades of litigation and untold millions of dollars paid to injured consumers, the industry continues to pump out millions of lower end vehicles that have cheap seats that fail.

As a result, seat back collapse lawsuits are, unfortunately, still alive and well. As with the cases we’ve recently reviewed and handled in past years the fact pattern is generally the same: client is a driver or passenger in a vehicle which is stopped at a light or stop sign. Their car is rear-ended by another driver at a moderate speed – typically 20 to 35 miles per hour. The client’s seat back collapses, throwing them backwards. The client is paralyzed or suffers a catastrophic head injury due to the structure of a collapsed seat back rupturing their spinal cord or causing their head to hit the back of the vehicle. Even though the crash was one that should have only resulted in minor injuries, the client has permanent catastrophic injuries.

This problem generally only affects lower end vehicles with poorly designed seats. Cost of the seat is usually always a factor. These injuries do not happen to occupants seated in vehicles with good seats – think Mercedes, Volvo, etc…

Tragically, the worst of these cases involve injuries to back seated children. When a seat back collapses, if there is a child seated directly in back of the occupant whose seat collapses, the child can be injured when the front seated occupant’s head slams into the child’s face or chest. We made an advocacy video about one of these cases several years ago that involved a four year old client of ours named Alyssa Perrino. Alyssa suffered a catastrophic brain injury when her grandfather’s car was rear ended. His seat back collapsed resulting in his head impacting Alyssa’s head. Had the seat back not failed she would have likely not been injured.

Studies dating back to the early 1960’s show the industry has been well aware of the need for properly designed seat backs for decades. In 1968, after extensive testing, researchers determined that rigid seat backs guarantee more effective support of the occupant during rear-end collisions, providing the seat back support is high enough to also resist rearward movement of the head. Conversely, a seat that yields appreciably rearward places the motorist in a semi-reclined posture that may serve to attenuate some of the injury-producing forces. A well designed seat balances both of these factors to result in good crash protection for occupants. Unfortunately a good crashworthy seat costs money, and when some companies cut costs it comes at the expense of more dangerous seats that fail when they should protect.

In 1967, the NHTSA first published Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 207, which calls for a uniform loading test for seats and seat backs. The test simply requires that an empty seat be attached to a pulley and a static load 20 times the empty seat weight is applied rearward. The seat will pass if there is only minimal rearward bending. For example, an empty seat equal to 10 pounds is required to withstand a static load of only 200 pounds before collapsing. FMVSS 202, adopted in 1968, similarly sets loading limits for headrests. This is an absurdly low minimum standard and has no correlation to whether the seat will protect occupants.

Some manufacturers build good seats that are designed to protect occupants. Other manufacturers design their seats to only pass the minimum safety standard. This still happens today with certain lower end makes and models, despite decades of litigation and industry insiders knowing full well that many vehicles have cheap seats that will fail in certain crashes. As a result, for certain cars, moderate rear end crashes will continue to result in seat backs collapsing and occupants being injured.

Newsome Melton has represented hundreds of individuals and families who have been injured by defective products including cheap seat backs, exploding airbags, and tire tread separations. If you or a loved one has questions about a defective product injury lawsuit, please call our firm at (888) 808-5977.

Poisoning Becomes Leading U.S. Cause of Injury Death: What is Spurring the Trend?

Poisoning Becomes Leading U.S. Cause of Injury Death: What is Spurring the Trend?

A publication from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revealed that poisoning has overtaken motor vehicle-related fatalities as the number one cause of death in the United States. Over the past 30 years, poisoning death has almost tripled, while the motor vehicle traffic death rate has shrunken by about half. Furthermore, the public safety news source explains that 90% of these poisoning deaths are due to drug poisoning.

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Table Saws: A source of continued risk

Table Saws:  A source of continued risk

A recent Wall Street Journal article reports that following consistent and continued cases of injuries involving table and bench saws, the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) intends to “consider tougher standards” in the near future. The report explains that, despite objections from major manufacturers, the CPSC believes efforts aimed at reducing the high rate of injuries caused by table and bench saws is in the best interests of the public, including tens of thousands of people they say are injured each year while using table and bench saws.

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Florida Decision Weekly Wrap-up 04/09

Florida Decision Weekly Wrap-up 04/09

WEEKLY CASE LAW UPDATE WEEK ENDING APRIL 9, 2010

PEDIATRIX MEDICAL GROUP OF FLORIDA, INC., et al. v. FALCONER, et al. Case No. 4D09-3584. 4th DCA. April 7, 2010.

[Torts. Medical Negligence]

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Florida Decision Weekly Wrap-up 04/02

Florida Decision Weekly Wrap-up 04/02

GRIFFIN vs. ELLIS ALUMINUM & SCREEN, INC. Case No. 3D08-1782. L.T. Case No. 05-319. 3rd DCA. March 31, 2010.

[Torts. Evidence of Subsequent Accidents and Lack of Prior Accidents]

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Florida Decision Weekly Wrap-up 12/4

Florida Decision Weekly Wrap-up 12/4

The following are decisions issued by Florida courts during the week of 11/31 through 12/4 that are relevant to product liability and other personal injury litigation

Tort Case Decisions

MARVIN RAY HOWARD and JANNIE L. DRISKELL, Appellants, v. BOULANGER DRYWALL CORP., Appellee. 4th District.

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