For decades, the auto product liability attorneys at BISNAR | CHASE have represented and still continue to represent victims of several different types of auto product defects. Seatback failure or seatback collapse is one of those vehicle defects that can cause extremely devastating injuries to a vehicle’s occupants. Some of the injured clients we have represented have sustained spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and even death as a result of seatback collapse. Several have been paralyzed or rendered quadriplegic or paraplegic.

No Effective Safety Standard for Seatbacks

According to a news report this week in the Los Angeles Times, the federal auto safety regulatory body better known as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been trying to fix this problem for years. But they haven’t succeeded no thanks to aggressive lobbying on the part of auto makers. These defective seatbacks are so weak that they collapse on impact during a car crash. The vehicle’s occupants are violently tossed about, pretty much like a rag doll, inside the vehicle, thus causing such catastrophic injuries.

NHTSA Faces Political Pressure

NHTSA took on the seatback safety issue back during the Carter Administration under Joan Claybrook who was then the agency’s head. However, when the Reagan Administration took over, Claybrook was no longer head and the issue went out the door with her. That’s essentially the problem with the NHTSA. It is not a politically objective or neutral agency dedicated to safety. It is in fact, a political agency dedicated to political interests. So when administrations change, the NHTSA’s focus, priorities, affiliations and allegiances change. And this has not been good for the American consumer, who after all these years, still continue to suffer catastrophic injuries as a result of seatback collapse.

Lack of Proper Enforcement

Not only has the NHTSA failed to fix the seatback strength standard, but also the agency itself has struggled to enforce the rules it or Congress set forth with regard to auto safety. The agency operates with a slim crew of enforcers who do not have the time or resources to make sure the regulations and standards are enforced properly. As a result, the weak seatbacks in most vehicles are no better than a well-made cardboard box or lawn chair!

Auto makers have contended that seat backs are meant to collapse and absorb energy to reduce injuries. They have conducted no tests to date, to prove that theory. However, our firm has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in crash tests, which in fact, show that these weak seatbacks do a grave disservice to consumers.

If you would like to find out more about the specifics of common vehicle defects that affect the lives of Americans every day, please order a copy of my book “Still Unsafe at Any Speed”: Auto Defects That Cause Wrongful Deaths and Catastrophic Injuries.”