You wake up suddenly, upside-down, seat belt strapped across your chest, sirens wailing, and the bustle of EMTs outside your totaled car. You’ve just survived a serious crash, but you’re not in great shape — the skin on your face is burning, you can’t see out of your left eye, and two of your ribs are broken.
These injuries weren’t caused by the impact of the collision but by your own safety device. You’ve just been soundly smacked by your airbag.
The Invention of the Airbag
One sunny Sunday in 1952, engineer John W. Hetrick was out for a drive with his wife and young daughter when a deer appeared on the road in front of them. Hetrick swerved into a ditch, and he and his wife flung out their arms to protect their child.
While driving home after the accident, Hetrick was struck with a brilliant idea: a safety device that might function the way his and his wife’s arms had functioned — something that would slow a driver’s or passenger’s forward motion as much as possible.
In head-on motor collisions, even a fraction of a second can be the difference between life and death. Hetrick’s airbag has been exceptionally successful in preventing serious injuries to drivers and passengers alike, but the airbag also (ironically) often causes injuries of its own.
How do airbags work?
The airbag system is similar to a solid rocket booster, but it’s a little simpler than rocket science. When a vehicle’s pressure and crash sensors detect a collision, they trigger that vehicle’s corresponding airbags, which may be located on the front, sides, and ceiling of the vehicle.
The entire process of deploying an airbag lasts for one twenty-fifth of a second. The airbag system ignites a solid propellant, which burns speedily and creates the gas that inflates the airbag. The airbag then explodes out of its storage site at up to 200 miles per hour before the gas leaks out through holes in the airbag, deflating it.
Common Airbag Injuries
Now that you know how the airbag works, it’s important to be informed about the types of injuries that airbags can cause. Many things can go wrong when an airbag deploys.
The airbag sensor might malfunction and deploy the airbag at the wrong time, or the sensor might deploy one airbag and not the other. But even a correctly functioning airbag can cause damage. Here are a few common airbag injuries:
Airbags often cause drivers and passengers to jolt forward and backward in rapid succession, which strains a person’s soft tissue. This causes stiffness and aching in the neck and shoulders, known as whiplash.
Abrasions and Burns
Because an airbag deployment occurs faster than the blink of an eye, the speed at which the material collides with the driver or passenger can cause abrasions and burns to the face and arms.
The speed at which an airbag deploys and collides with the face can also cause serious damage to a person’s eyes, resulting in temporary or even permanent blindness.
Damage to Lungs
Because airbags release particulates and chemicals when they deploy, a person’s airways might become inflamed to the point of blocking airflow. This can be lethal for people with asthma and other respiratory issues.
The close proximity of a person’s arm to an airbag module commonly results in contusions, abrasions, and sprains to the hand, wrist, and forearm.
What to Do in Case of Airbag Injury
If you or a loved one has been injured by airbag deployment, faulty or otherwise, get in touch with Hewitt & Salvatore, PLLC. Our Fayetteville, WV, personal injury attorneys will help you determine whether you are entitled to compensation.