A Houston,Texas young girl was rendered a quadriplegic as a result of an auto accident in which the vehicle she was in went out of control and hit a culvert. The driver and front seat passenger with lap and shoulder belts walked away from the accident without any major injuries. The young lady in the backseat with only a lap belt became a quadriplegic when her neck was broken upon impact with the back side of the front seat frame. This model was not equipped with a lap & shoulder belt, but rather only the dangerous lap only seat belt. Expert engineers, hired by the Willis Firm all agreed that this young woman would have also walked away and been essentially uninjured had there been a shoulder belt included for the passengers safetyand protection.The picture to the right is the actual car that our client was in wearing only her lap belt.
As early as the 1950’s medical studies began to recognize an increase in abdominal injuries for occupants wearing only lap belt restraints. These injuries included fractured spines, perforation to the intestines, facial fractures; serious closed head injuries, and even death. Automotive engineers soon realized that in such frontal impacts, the occupants in only lap belts, their heads and upper torso accelerate during impact and can exceed the actual impact velocity of the vehicle in which they are occupants.
In 1967, a Ford engineer wrote in a confidential memo that:
“the 3-point, diagonal shoulder belt system has been demonstrated to offer much greater protection to the vehicle occupant than does a single lap belt alone, since it prevents injuries from jackknifing…Injuries…involving 3-point systems would all have probably been much worse had the individuals been wearing…a lap belt only…Our conclusion…is that a properly worn, 3-point system clearly protects the occupant better than a lap belt only system.”
With this knowledge one could only believe that automakers would quickly remedy this deadly situation, but instead they fought to be required to include shoulder belts as standard equipment. In fact even after shoulder belts were required for front seated outboard occupants, the manufacturers continued their fight against shoulder belts for the rear occupants through the 1987 model year.
According to government studies the failure to have shoulder belts in rear seats, may have caused as many as 6,000 deaths and serious injuries per year. In early 1970’s NHSTA proposed shoulder belts in all out board seating positions, but Lee Iacocca as president of Ford and other industry executives successfully lobbies President Richard Nixon to block the implementation of such regulations. During these debates, Iacocca stated that the shoulder belts and headrests was “a complete waste of money” even though he said, “no doubt that it saves lives.” Years later, Lee Iocacca in his autobiography, stated “the plain truth is that if you are wearing a combined shoulder and lap belt system, its almost impossible to be killed in an impact under 30 mph.” Cars sold in Europe by U.S. and foreign manufacturers were equipped with rear seat lap and shoulder belts long before they were used in cars sold in the United States.
As a result of the strong ineffective lobbying, there was no shoulder belt requirement but in 1972, auto manufacturers were required to put anchorage points (or brackets) for rear shoulder harnesses. All that was missing was the belt assembly itself, estimated to cost about $12 per car. However, instead of installing this inexpensive safety item, many manufacturers began to sell retrofit kits. These kits cost many times more what it would have cost a manufacturer to install a three-point belt at a factory. Unfortunately, surveys have shown that auto dealers typically do not stock these retrofit shoulder belts.Researchers clearly understood the contradictions and the hypocrisy of not providing a three-point belt system (lap and shoulder belts) to every occupant regardless of their seating position. Often times in frontal impacts, the front seated occupants walk away from the collision, due to the (3 point belts), but the rear occupants are seriously injured or killed when their heads and upper torso are violently accelerated into the back of the front seat or door/roof pillars. Only if the automobile manufactured had not resisted the implementation of such a simple and proven safely system, thousands of persons would have be spared the horrors of closed head injuries and paralysis.
Finally, the American Manufacturers were forced by NHTSA to install shoulder harnesses in the rear seats and the numbers of these types of injuries almost disappeared overnight in the newer model vehicles. While all new vehicles manufacturers and sold in the United State are now equipped with lap shoulder belts, still the center seating position is without such protection and unfortunately, hundreds if not thousands will also be injured before the laws are changed again.
Sadly, even today new cars are still being produced without a three (3) point seat belt system for all occupants.In light of all of the safety studies showing that shoulder belts in addition to lap belts prevent injuries and deaths, many center position seats only have a simple 2 point lap belt. Some auto makers have begun to use a 3 point lap shoulder belt in the middle position to prevent these serious injuries from occurring. If a family member has been seriously injuried or worst killed in an accident while seated in the middle or center seating position with only a lap belt, with no shoulder belt, then call our firm immediately for legal help. The vehicle and the seat belt must be found and preserved as evidence.
If you or a loved one have been injured while wearing only a lapbelt, then call and talk to an experienced products liability trial attorney now. Due to the nature of these cases, the dangerous or defective products must be found and preserved as evidence, the scene of the accident must be documented and a full investigation must be started. Call us if we can help.