Air Bag Defects

Air bags began being installed in vehicles in the United States in 1974.   While they are intended to save lives, air bag defects can also cause injury.

Air Bag Anatomy

An air bag might cause injury if it inflates too quickly, if it is too large, if it fails to use tethers (internal straps that prevent the air bag from pushing too far back in the passenger compartment), or if its folding pattern is dangerous.

Sensors are the brains of the air bag system.  They detect the collision and tell the air bag whether, when, and how forcefully to fire. But their placement and calibration are problematic, sometimes causing air bags to fail to deploy when they should, to deploy late (allowing occupants to get too close to the air bag), and to deploy in minor collisions when they should not deploy at all.  Consequently, sensor system defects are common in air bag cases.

Deployment Thresholds

Related to the sensor system are deployment thresholds.  If the manufacturer sets the thresholds too low, air bags deploy in relatively minor collisions.

Every air bag system has “must‑fire,” “may‑fire,” and “no‑fire” thresholds. For example, both Ford and Chrysler in the 1990s designed their vehicles so that air bags must fire in any collision with a barrier equivalent velocity (BEV) of 14 mph. They specified that the air bag must not fire in any collision with a BEV of 8 mph or less and that it may fire in any collision with a BEV greater than 8 mph and less than 14 mph.  The may‑fire zone is also known as the gray zone.

Defective‑Design Claims

Air bag cases generally fit into two categories: deployment and non deployment cases.  Both an air bag that deploys too forcefully and an air bag’s failure to deploy may cause injury.  Beyond these broad generalizations, however, case specifics vary greatly.

Side Air Bags

Air bag litigation now increasingly involves claims related to side air bags—typically, either the manufacturer’s failure to install a side air bag system or the failure of the side air bags to deploy properly.

When an air bag fails to perform properly in an accident, we want to know why.  To find out, if desirable, we retain experts and or technicians who can examine the air bag in question.  In some cases, accident reconstructionists or other experts will also be necessary to determine factors such as the speed at which the vehicle was moving at the time of impact, so that we can understand how the air bag should have performed.

If an air bag may have been defective in your accident, please call me so that I can meet with you and learn about your case.

This meeting is free.  If you retain us for your case, there will be no fee for our services unless and until we recover damages for you.  It is important that a law firm be hired as soon as practical in the case of a defective product – such as a defective air bag – so that critical evidence is not lost or destroyed.


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