According to studies, most deaths among youths within the ages of 5 to 34 result from car accidents. While seat belts are designed to help prevent injuries and save lives, studies have shown that seat belt restraint can sometimes escalate your injuries in a crash.
Reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that seat belts have saved about 255,000 over the past 40 years. Besides, over 51 percent of auto crash victims have escaped death as they were wearing seat belts during the time of the accident.
This article will look at the causes of seat belt injuries and how you can receive fair compensation.
How Do Seat Belt Injuries Usually Occur?
According to the first law of motion by Isaac Newton, a body in motion maintains the momentum until an opposing force acts on it. Therefore, when traveling in your car, your body and car are moving at the same speed. For instance, if your vehicle is traveling at 80 mph, then so are all the passengers and driver in the car.
If a crash causes your car to stop suddenly, then your body will stay in motion and travel at 80 mph unless an opposing force acts on stopping your momentum. In this case, the seat belt is meant to act as an opposing force that stops your momentum.
The purpose is to retrain and keep you in the vehicle safely and, most importantly, reduce the crash’s impact. Unfortunately, our bodies are not built to go from 80 mph to 0 within seconds suddenly.
In case of an accident, the sudden restraint and stop can result in minor or severe injuries depending on the speed of your car. The impact of the resulting force from the crash against your body is too much for your body organs, bones, muscles, and bones.
Besides, the following can also further aggravate your car accident injuries:
- A seat belt is improperly placed in your body
- Restrains were too tight
What injuries can seatbelts cause?
Seat belts are designed to prevent you from being thrown out of your car during an accident, which means that they are strong and rigid. The rigidity and strength of the seat belts can sometimes lead to many implications in terms of injuries. Here we look at the 5 most common injuries that result from seat belts:
- Sternum and chest injuries
Since when using seat belts became a requirement by law, medical providers have witnessed an upsurge of chest injuries. Sustaining chest injuries while wearing seat belts makes sense since the belt runs across your chest, which causes this part to absorb the blunt force resulting from the impact.
An injury to the sternum can be serious as the region is near your heart and the lungs, which means that an injury to the sternum can affect internal tissues and organs. If a car accident injury leaves you with a sore feeling in your chest, you should seek a physical or medical evaluation to confirm that it isn’t due to a serious issue.
- Rib injuries
Sustaining bruises or fractures on your rib is quite common in seat belt injuries. The restraining force of the seat belt may cause significant bruises or a few bones to break.
- Lacerations or abrasions
Although most seat belt injuries are internal, the belt may also cut or scratch your skin when it comes into contact with it. However, external injuries can also happen through your clothing if much force is involved.
- Abdominal Injuries
In some cases, the part of the belt that runs across your waist might also dig into your abdomen during an accident and cause injuries. Excessive, blunt force onto your abdomen can cause contusions or soft tissue injuries.
- Shoulder Injuries
The part of the seat belt that runs across your shoulder can also cause soft tissue injuries. Sometimes the force resulting from the crash can tear the ligaments or tendons in your shoulder. Besides, the force can also result in sprains and strains, which can be equally painful or cause some discomfort.
Another common injury results from trauma to your spine (notably the lower back or lumbar spine), which can cause different symptoms in various parts of the body. For instance, Sciatica can be due to trauma to your lumbar spine, which may be felt as pain in the buttock, lower back, foot, thigh, and calf. In some cases, patients can experience tingling and/or numbness and muscle weakness. Seatbelt injury can also lead to other conditions such as minor pain, bulging, and herniated discs.
How do you treat a seatbelt injury?
Treating a seatbelt injury will depend on the injured part and the nature of the injury. For example, bruised ribs can be treated by resting your body, controlling your breathing patterns, and icing the area.
In case of a shoulder injury, you can ice the area to reduce inflammation. However, chest pains may be a sign of severe injuries such as the fractured sternum and broken ribs. Thus, you need to seek physical and medical evaluation to avoid putting yourself in a dangerous position.
What is seat belt syndrome?
Seat belt syndrome refers to all injury profiles related to wearing seat belts. It can be seat belt marks or signs on your body when the belt digs into your skin and an intra-abdominal injury of internal organs like bowel perforations or/and lumbar-thoracic vertebral fractures. Thus, seat belt syndrome results when the belt compresses your abdomen during a crash leading to the damage of the internal organs and abdominal wall.
Some of the injuries that may be associated with the condition include injuries to the following organs:
- Small bowels
How do you know if you have seat belt syndrome?
The symptoms of seat belt syndrome depend on the injured organ and the nature of the injury. Some of the most common symptoms of seat belt syndrome include abdominal pain and bruises to your abdomen. However, a physician or medical provider may not immediately worry about serious injury to your internal organs until there are other symptoms.
Here are some of the symptoms you need to look out for if you have been injured in a motor accident. However, you should report the symptoms to your medical provider and request tests to help determine its seat belt syndrome:
- Muscle strains and bruising around the abdomen
- Skin discoloration or swelling that lasts for days
- Weakness or dizziness may also be a sign of injury to the internal organs
- Weakness in the legs may be a sign of damage to the lower back or the abdomen
- Changes in bowel movements or urination
- Coughing up or vomiting blood may be a sign of stomach damage
- Pain between your ribs and hips or abdominal pain may be a sign of damage to the kidney
- Difficulty breathing may be a sign of damage to your heart or lungs
- Bleeding and constipation could be a sign of a bowel obstruction resulting from belt trauma
- Blood in urine or stools
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT SEAT BELT INJURIES?
To prevent seat belt injuries, you need to make sure that you use it properly. In this case, you should make sure that the belt is correctly placed and engaged while driving or traveling. The following are some of the safety measures from the NHTSA (National Highway and Safety Administration) that can help prevent these injuries:
- Make sure that the shoulder strap runs across the center of your chest or a comfortable distance from the neck
- Avoid placing the shoulder part of the belt behind you. This may feel comfortable, but it’s risky
- Place the lap belt securely across the hips, just around your waist area
- Make sure that the chest and lap belts don’t hang loosely and are not too tight on you
How is Seat Belt Syndrome Diagnosed?
Just like most injuries to the internal organs, diagnosing seat belt syndrome can be quite a challenge since the symptoms may not occur immediately after a car accident. If you experience any symptoms of abdominal injuries, your doctor needs to perform a medical or physical examination to determine if there is any serious injury and to which organ.
However, focused abdominal sonography (FAST) and CT scans in trauma are usually necessary for diagnosing injuries to the internal organs. Invasive techniques like laparotomy may also be recommended in some cases to help diagnose damages associated with the syndrome.
What are the Seat Belt Syndrome Complications?
Seat belt syndrome can be dangerous if left untreated as these injuries could cause permanent impairments or permanent disabilities and also turn out to be life-threatening. In most cases, treatment for damages associated with seat belt syndrome is delayed since they may take a couple of days to manifest any clear or visible symptoms. Delayed treatment to seat belt syndrome may lead to additional damages due to further complications, including organ infections and failure.
HOW CAN I SUE FOR A CAR ACCIDENT SEAT BELT INJURY?
Like other personal injury cases, if you want to get a settlement for seat belt injury, you need first to determine who is at fault for the pain and suffering. In this case, you need to note one important thing. When it comes to seat belt injury claims, there is a huge difference between being involved in an accident where the injuries just resulted from using the belt and cases where the injury was due to a defective seat belt.
If you were primarily injured because of a defective seat belt, you could file a product liability claim. In this case, the at-fault party could be:
- The car plant or company that produced the car
- The seat belt distributor, retailer, or supplier
- The seat belt manufacturer
However, to win the product liability claim, you will be required to prove that the accused party was negligent. This will need you to answer the following questions:
- Did the seat belt have any defects that led to malfunction?
- Did you modify or alter anything on the belt in any way?
- Was the belt used as intended and properly?
The following are some cases that may suggest that your seat belt had a defect:
- The victim made harsh contact with the body of the vehicle leading to injuries
- The passenger was thrown out of the vehicle, but the seat belt buckle remained latched in place
- The belt webbing was loose and torn after the crash
If you look at the cases listed above, it is clear that the seat belt defect significantly contributed to the auto accident injuries. Nevertheless, if you experienced a car accident that caused your body to jerk against the belt and sustain injuries, you can still be compensated. This is by filing a claim against the other party’s insurance company while taking it as an ordinary bodily injury claim.
Can you file a claim if you were injured and weren’t using a seat belt?
Yes, you can still file a claim even if you were injured in an accident and weren’t using a seat belt, but you need to understand some details to be in a better position to win your claim. For example, failing to wear your seat belt may have to some extent contributed to severe injuries, and the insurance company or court may consider it as contributory negligence. This may lead to a reduction of the amount that you were to receive as a settlement for your injury. However, the details on how such claims are handled will mainly depend on the specific state laws.
Seat belts are among the most important safety features in your vehicle, and as traffic rules dictate, they should always be used while driving. However, if you suffer seat belt injuries after a crash in an unlikely event, you need to remember the following points:
- The most common injuries associated with seat belts tend to involve your ribs, abdomen, and chest.
- Seat belt injuries mainly result due to the severity of the impact or improper use.
- If you sustain seat belt injuries, you can file a usual bodily injury claim or a product liability claim with your insurer.
SUFFERING SEAT BELT INJURIES IN CAR ACCIDENT CLAIMS: https://www.after-car-accidents.com/seat-belt-injuries.html
A Public Health Perspective of Road Traffic Accidents: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3893966/
The impact of seat-belts in limiting the severity of injuries in patients presenting to a university hospital in the developing world: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3644739/
Seat Belts: https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts