Seatback Strength Standards

Seat strength standardsAt Jones & Swanson, our attorneys represent car accident victims more than any other type of injured victims. Because of this, our staff has witnessed first-hand how automobile safety defects can be the difference in the outcome of a crash.

A recent Texas verdict brings seatback safety standards to the forefront of national news. Automobile safety experts are demanding that the NHTSA and auto manufacturers take action on a significant safety defect: the strength of seat backs.

The Texas jury awarded a $120 million verdict against an automaker for a defective seatback strength issue. This specific case involved a crash in 2012, in which an 11-year-old boy was sitting behind his father in the family’s Audi sedan when it was rear-ended. The father’s seat broke, launching him head-first into his son in the seat behind him. Unfortunately, the child was left with permanent brain damage.

Crash test videos were used as evidence in the case, showing vehicles behind hit from behind and the front seats breaking – injuring drivers and passengers, especially young children. The Texas jury ruled that the child’s injuries resulted from Audi’s gross negligence, in spite of the company’s legal counsel claiming that the seat was supposed to have reacted the way it did. In a deposition for the case, a company engineer stated that the vehicle was designed so that someone in the back seat would support someone in the front seat with their knees. This is troubling, especially when we are constantly told to keep children in the back seat because it is safer for t hem there.

Even more troubling is that the Audi seats in question met or exceeded the federal standard for strength. This standard is so low that during testing, even a typical banquet chair passed. Nearly every major American, Japanese, and Korean auto maker has seen similar cases recently. Internal documents show car makers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has known about the potential for seatback collapses for decades. The NHTSA insists it has looked into the issue, but it is very challenging to upgrade the standard because these accidents are so rare. So far more than 100 people have been identified who were severely injured or killed in apparent seatback failures since 1989 in the U.S. 17 have died in the past 15 years alone.

Surprisingly, improving the seats wouldn’t necessarily be expensive. In an earlier case, an engineer being deposed said that strengthening seatbacks would cost approximately $1-$2.

The current agency seatback standard is decades old. Fortunately, there are a few auto manufacturers who have already taken action towards strengthening seatbacks. All Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo vehicles have seats that are designed not to fail. Beyond that, it varies from brand, make, and model the overall safety of seats.