Crash and accident data has shown for years that seat belts save lives and prevent countless fatal injuries on American roads, but they are only reliable when worn correctly. Few people realize that seat belts can have dangerous and even deadly consequences when worn incorrectly, and unfortunately, children are at the greatest risk.
Most vehicle seat belts extend over the shoulder closest to the car door toward the opposite hip and across the lap to attach to the buckle. The lap portion of the belt needs to fit securely across the top of the lap, but many younger passengers find this uncomfortable and instead allow the lap belt to rest across the stomach. Additionally, younger passengers are shorter than adults and often find that the shoulder strap rests uncomfortably or cuts them across the neck. If they tuck this strap behind them into a more comfortable position, however, they effectively render the safety belt useless. Either of these examples can lead to serious and/or life-threatening injuries.
So, What is Seat Belt Syndrome?
Seat belt syndrome happens in accidents involving passengers who did not wear their seat belts correctly. Since this occurs so often with child passengers, members of the medical community consider seat belt injuries as “seat belt syndrome,” a condition that describes various injuries.
Failing to properly secure the shoulder strap means that the passenger will bend sharply forward over the lap belt during a crash. This effectively causes the person to bend too far forward and risk severe facial and cranial injuries after impact with the seat in front. Wearing the lap belt across the stomach instead of on top of the lap means that the restraining force of the impact is concentrated on the soft abdominal tissues instead of the sturdier legs. This means the abdomen and internal organs are at extreme risk for severe injuries.
Internal injuries are not only severely damaging, but also difficult to treat and sometimes hard to positively identify at first. Some internal damage may not manifest visible symptoms for quite some time after an incident, leaving victims more susceptible to complications including infection and organ failure.
The Importance of Appropriate Car Seats
One reason seat belt syndrome is so common among children is because they are eager to get out of “baby seats” and sit in the car like an adult. While some parents may respect their children’s maturity and see no harm in allowing them to travel without being restrained in a car seat or booster seat, it’s important to understand the serious risks of such decisions.
Each state enforces car seat laws to determine acceptable seats for children based on age, height, and weight. Once a child outgrows a seat, take the time to assess whether or not he or she meets the requirements for sitting unassisted. If a child is too small to sit with the seat belt in the appropriate place, he or she needs an appropriate seat to ensure safety.
Car Seat Laws and Defective Products
State laws require drivers to replace car seats after accidents – even if the car seat sustained no visible damage. Car seats can only guarantee a level of safety for one crash because the seat is likely to sustain very minute damage that compromises its integrity. If you have recently been in an accident, replace your car seat immediately. When drivers fail to replace compromised seats and those seats lead to injuries, victims cannot pursue compensation from the manufacturers. However, if a product manufacturer sold something that was defective or did not perform as advertised, injured victims can pursue compensation through a product liability claim.
Understanding Your Options
Seat belt syndrome can be severe or even deadly. It’s vital to understand your rights and legal options after your child or other family members suffers seat belt syndrome. One of the best choices you can make in this situation is to hire a reliable and experienced attorney to handle your case. If a defective product, negligent party, or other factor caused you or your loved one injury, it’s important to hold them accountable and secure the compensation you deserve.