Sunday, July 19, 2009

Air Bag

This is an true, short story from my case files. It's about airbags and those in the passenger front seat.

Some people disconnect those airbags because they can hurt a small person or even big ones when they deploy. These people, via personal experience... or heresay... are aware airbag deployments can cause damages greater than damage done to other parts of the human body were the airbag not there. People have been killed by airbags. But more people have been killed without them.

I too have seen and photographed the injuries left by airbag deployments: the bruises; burns; broken glasses; blackened eyes, the broken sternums.

However, it's a fact... and it's a law in many cases... that kids and people of a specific age, height and weight, are safer in the back seat.

I have also seen the damages caused by airbags that don't deploy. The result is catastrophic injuries to brain, hearts, often resulting in death.

Whenever you buy used a car you figure is new enough to have airbags... appears to have airbags... and the dealer says there are airbags, often the are airbags aren't there.

Either the newer cars without air bags had them stolen, because airbags are a hot property on the black market. Used car dealers also sell cars that were in prior accidents involving airbag deployments. The deployed airbags were not replaced and the airbag cover panel is snapped securely in place. So buyer beware.

Because I have seen airbags save lives...
Because I have witnessed airbags do more good than harm...
the passenger front seat airbag in my car remains in "on" or active status.

The passenger airbag control was also "on" in the car when my client, called Martha for these purposes, was seated in the passenger seat of her daughter's car.

Martha was 72 and was just released from the hospital after a long stay which resulted in a Trach tube being put in her neck. Martha was excited to be going home, despite the tube she'd need to keep there. She said she figured it was small price to pay for being out of the hospital and being with the grandkids who were all waiting for her at home.

They were one mile from the daughter's home, on a rural two-lane road, when a teenager driving at a high rate of speed while texting on a cell phone neglected to notice the double yellow line in the middle of the road.

The teenager hit the car Martha and her daughter were in head-on... at what police believe was an estimated 55 mph. Airbags deployed in all vehicles as they are programmed to do in a direct head-on hit at a high rate of speed.

The airbag in the passenger seat Martha was sitting in hit her in the neck, the primary impact was to her face and neck where the trach tube was.

The airbag knocked the trach tube out of Martha's neck and sent its black smoke of chemicals and other toxic particles into the open trach hole in Martha's throat. The smoke and air bag particles entered Martha's entire body, first down her trachea, then occupying her lungs, and ultimately commandeering her entire body.

Martha's daughter made a U-turn and raced Martha back to the hospital. The hospital did triage, then Martha was airlifted to a trauma hospital in Seattle. By then, though, it was too late. Her system was taken over by all the airbag chemical attack.

By the time I met with Martha she'd been told she would die within the month.

She wanted to to sue the insurance company of the parents who owned and insured the car their teenager was driving while texting. She wanted the proceeds from the case to go to her children and grandchildren.

She also asked about suing the airbag company. I said that was a question to ask the attorney.
I told Martha I don't know whether a jury would consider the airbag company liable. The airbag deployed as it was programmed to. It didn't know Martha had a trach tube in. The jury might also also say everyone knows car have airbags. They might say it was incumbent upon Martha and her daughter to mitigate their own injuries or damages.

Martha talked to me about about her impending death calmly, like it was just another "to-do" on her list. She was resigned to her fate, she said, and determined to go out with dignity.

Live long enough and you learn.
Some people go out fighting, screaming, kicking, resisting.
Others, they exit gracefully, with dignity, acceptance, a resolute calm.
That would be Martha.

She lived the one month the doctors predicted. She's been dead three years now.

I told the attorney on the case the auto companies need a "Trach" passenger front airbag warning just as they have a size and weight warning for children. He said it was good idea but it wasn't going to happen. He said the voluntary airbag control switch in the passenger seat puts liability in the driver's hands. Not the airbag's.

There was enough insurance in the teenagers parents policy to provide for Martha's family in a manner she would have been pleased with. Despite Martha's wishes, the lawyers chose not to go after the airbag company. Ultimately she'd agreed with their position before she passed.

Today, someone, somewhere, will be released from a hospital with a trach tube.
All I can do is tell this story... and hope they don't sit in the front passenger seat.


  1. (from Paul Jackson)
    Not to beat a dead phrase.... but here is the link to all the bulwer-lytton winners...

    lots of fun like this one:
    Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.

    --Jim Guigli, Carmichael, CA (2006 Winner)

  2. Interesting read, ty for posting...