10 Most Common Airbag Injuries (2023)

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Airbags save lives. Unfortunately, they can also cause serious harm and sometimes even fatal injuries — especially if they malfunction.

Victims of airbag injuries have legal rights, and it’s important to understand how best to obtain compensation when something goes wrong.

This guide to airbag injuries explains some common injuries, how these injuries occur, and what victims can do to recover damages if this product malfunctions.

How Does an Airbag Work?

Airbags are typically located within the steering wheel of a vehicle as well as in the dashboard in front of the passenger’s seat. Some vehicles also have side airbags as well.

Airbags are made of light fabric and are connected to a crash sensor. When the sensor detects a collision, it triggers an igniter that fills the airbag with gas. The airbag will expand and deploy in approximately 1/20 of a second and with a reasonable amount of force.

The gas-filled airbag is supposed to cushion the impact of the accident so if you are thrown forward, you hit the bag instead of the hard surfaces of the vehicle. Unfortunately, things can go wrong and airbag injuries can sometimes occur.

How Do Airbag Injuries Happen?

Airbag injuries have many potential causes including the following:

  • An airbag sensor can malfunction, causing the airbag not to deploy or to deploy at the wrong time
  • Gasses released by the airbag can cause or worsen respiratory issues
  • The deployment of the airbag can cause severe eye injury
  • Shrapnel from the propellant canister can fly out of the airbag and strike vehicle occupants

Unfortunately, tens of millions of airbags had to be recalled in recent years when long-term exposure to heat and humidity caused them to explode during deployment. These airbags were manufactured by Takata and used by 19 different automakers. More than 400 injuries and nearly 30 deaths occurred, resulting in numerous lawsuits by airbag injury victims.

(Video) Avoiding airbag injuries

The 10 Most Common Airbag Injuries

Although injuries from malfunctioning airbags tend to be the most serious, airbags can cause damage even when they work properly. The 10 most common airbag injuries include:

  1. Facial injuries including bruising and fractures to the small bone due to the impact of the airbag
  2. Chest injuries including heart injuries due to the impact of the airbag against the chest
  3. Burns on the chest, hands, arms, or face when the fabric of the airbag moves along the skin
  4. Fractures including to the skull, ribs, and wrist bones
  5. Traumatic brain injuries
  6. Eye injuries from chemical irritation or from the pressure of the airbag
  7. Ear trauma, including hearing loss
  8. Internal bleeding if organs are damaged by airbag deployment
  9. Asthma attacks and other respiratory issues due to the chemicals involved in deployment
  10. Injury to the fetus in pregnant women

These injuries are more likely to occur, and to be severe, if the vehicle occupants were not wearing a seatbelt when the airbag deployed. But even when the driver and passenger did everything correctly, they can still happen.

What Should You Do If You Think An Airbag Injured You?

If you suspect an airbag injury, you’ll need evidence to prove it. This means it is critical to try to preserve the parts of an airbag after a collision. You don’t want the bag itself or the crash sensor to be disposed of.

Try to retain the vehicle and all airbag parts so you’ll have the evidence you need to prove your claim. This can be a challenge if the car is declared a total loss and the insurer wants to take possession of it. Talk with an attorney before allowing this to occur so you can preserve evidence that may be crucial to your case.

What are Your Rights After an Airbag Injury?

If an airbag injury occurred, you may be able to recover compensation for your losses. You could pursue a claim against:

  • The airbag manufacturer
  • The automobile manufacturer
  • Anyone who inspected, maintained or replaced the airbag after purchase

To successfully sue for damages resulting from your injuries, you must be able to prove that the airbag was defective and that the defect was the direct cause of harm.

You will make your claim under product liability laws, so you do not have to prove anyone was negligent. Companies are strictly liable when their products cause harm due to a defect, even if there was no evidence of carelessness during the design or manufacture process.

While you can pursue your case under strict liability rules, there are also other legal claims as well. For example, you could sue for negligent design or construction, or for breach of express or implied warranty if the airbag fails to fulfill promises made by the manufacturer.

(Video) Airbag Injuries From Car Accidents

Can You Recover For an Airbag Injury Even if You Were at Fault for the Accident?

In many cases, even if you were to blame for a car accident, you may still be able to recover some compensation for an airbag injury if you can prove you were damaged by a defect in the safety device.

What Compensation Is Available for an Airbag Injury?

If you can successfully prove that an airbag malfunction caused you harm, you should be compensated for all losses directly caused by the defective product. This can include compensation for:

  • Medical bills to treat airbag injuries
  • Lost wages if you cannot work to your full capacity due to injuries
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress damages

An experienced injury attorney can help you to pursue your case and demonstrate the extent of your losses.

(Video) Airbag Injuries Explained by Phoenix Car Accident Attorney John Kelly

How Long Do You Have to Make a Claim for Your Airbag Injury

A statute of limitations applies to product liability claims in every state.

If the statute of limitations has passed, you cannot pursue your claim. Depending where you live, the statute of limitations generally runs from two to four years. If more time than that has passed, your claim may be time barred which means you will not be able to move forward with pursuing a lawsuit to recover damages.

You shouldn’t wait to pursue your claim since you’ll want to act when evidence is fresh. Contact an attorney as soon as you suspect an airbag injury has occurred.


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(Video) 6 Common Car Accident Injuries

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

What kind of accident causes airbags to deploy?

Airbags should deploy when a crash is moderate to severe. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a crash meets this definition if the vehicle hits a solid, fixed barrier at a speed equal to or greater than 8 to 14 miles per hour. If an airbag fails to deploy when it should, the airbag manufacturer could potentially be held liable for any injuries attributed to this failure.

How long does it take to heal from airbag injuries?

The recovery process after an airbag injury varies. In some cases, it’s possible for more minor skin irritation or respiratory irritation to heal quickly — usually within weeks. In other circumstances, such as when traumatic brain injury or chest injuries occur, it could take months or years to heal — or injuries could even be permanent. When you sustain serious injuries, you should contact an attorney as you may be able to pursue a claim for compensation if the damage occurred due to a defect.

(Video) Do You Have An Airbag Failure For A Serious Injury Or Death In A Head On Collision

Can airbags damage your lungs?

Airbags can cause damage to your lungs. Airway edema, bronchoconstriction, emphysema and hemoptysis are possible consequences of airbag induced lung injuries. When these injuries occur due to a problem with the airbag, the airbag or vehicle manufacturer could potentially be required to provide compensation for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering resulting from the damage.


What are the most common injuries from airbags? ›

Chest injuries including heart injuries due to the impact of the airbag against the chest. Burns on the chest, hands, arms, or face when the fabric of the airbag moves along the skin. Fractures including to the skull, ribs, and wrist bones. Traumatic brain injuries.

What are common problems with airbags? ›

Some airbags may inflate too rapidly and burst, or don't inflate quickly enough to cushion the impact of a crash. In addition, certain chemical agents used to enable deployment may cause breathing problems, abrasions, burn injuries, blindness, or hearing loss.

What injuries to the face are caused by an airbag? ›

Facial Injuries

The force of the airbag deployment could cause surface abrasions or burns on your face. The airbag could also hit one of your eyes, causing temporary or even permanent blindness. Other eye injuries include corneal abrasions and retinal detachments. The airbag could fracture bones in your face as well.

What type of injuries do airbags reduce? ›

Air bags reduce the chance that your upper body or head will strike the vehicle's interior during a crash. To avoid an air-bag-related injury, make sure you are properly seated and remember—air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.

What happens when an airbag hits your chest? ›

Hitting your chest on the steering wheel, dashboard, seat belt or airbag can cause: Damage to the sternum which can injure your heart, large blood vessels or esophagus. The sternum is your breastbone, which is the long, flat bone located in the center of the chest and connected to your ribs by cartilage.

How bad is an accident if airbags deploy? ›

Airbag deployment generally indicates that the collision was moderate to severe. Therefore, the fact that the airbags deployed supports the other evidence that you sustained severe injuries in the accident. An insurance adjuster may offer a higher settlement amount when the airbags deploy.

Can a airbag deploy accidentally? ›

Air bags may accidentally deploy. Sometimes an air bag will deploy when a vehicle hits a curb or even a pothole. This accidental or inadvertent deployment can not only directly cause injury to an occupant, it can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle and have a serious collision.

How much force does it take to deploy an airbag? ›

Typically, a front airbag will deploy for unbelted occupants when the crash is the equivalent of an impact into a rigid wall at 10-12 mph. Most airbags will deploy at a higher threshold — about 16 mph — for belted occupants because the belts alone are likely to provide adequate protection up to these moderate speeds.

Where should the airbag hit you? ›

The number one tip for airbag safety for short drivers is keeping a safe distance from the air-bag in their steering wheel. NHTSA recommends that there be 10 inches between the air-bag cover and a driver's breastbone.

Can an airbag cause nerve damage? ›

Nerve damage

Your trigeminal nerve runs through your face and into your neck. If an airbag damages this nerve, you may experience temporary or even permanent paralysis.

Can airbags cause ear damage? ›

A wide variety of airbag-induced otologic injuries occur and may have long-term sequelae. These include temporary or permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, disequilibrium, and otalgia.

What is the 5 10 20 rule for airbags? ›

Utilize the "5,10,20 Rule." Stay five inches away from side-curtain airbags, 10 inches from the driver's airbag and 20 inches from the passenger airbag.

What are the basic or 3 main parts to an airbag? ›

The airbag module contains both an inflator unit and the lightweight fabric airbag. The airbag system consists of three basic parts: (1) An airbag module, (2) crash sensors, and (3) a diagnostic unit. Some systems may also have an on/off switch, which allows the airbag to be deactivated.

Are 25 year old airbags safe? ›

Those labels called for airbags to be replaced after 15 years. But after much research, automakers have concluded that airbags produced after 1992 will last the lifetime of the vehicle. That means that all modern cars that have been built since 1992 contain airbags that should function perfectly.

How many people are injured by airbags? ›

By April 2021, at least 19 deaths and 400 injuries associated with malfunctioning Takata airbags were reported in the U.S. The NHTSA flagged specific models manufactured by BMW, Ford, Mazda, Honda, and Acura with a high risk of malfunctioning airbags.

Can airbags cause bruising? ›

You may experience scrapes around any exposed skin from the abrasiveness of the airbag. Airbags can also cause bruises due to the strong force of impact against your body. In some cases, the chemicals in an airbag deployment can lead to chemical burns. The impact of the airbag can also lead to friction burns.

What is airbag dermatitis? ›

The term encompasses abrasions, burns, irritant contact dermatitis, and erythema that are caused by trauma from the air bag or by gases or substances released along with the air bag.

What are 4 signs of a serious chest injury? ›

Signs and symptoms of chest injury include:
  • pain in the chest that gets worse when laughing, coughing or sneezing.
  • pain when breathing in.
  • difficulty breathing.
  • tenderness to the chest or back over the ribs.
  • bruising.
  • swelling.
  • a 'crunchy' or 'crackling' feeling under the skin or in the ribs.
  • coughing up blood.
Dec 19, 2017

How long will my chest hurt after airbag? ›

Generally, the pain will be the worst in the first 24- 48 hours after the initial accident, and hopefully start to lessen after approximately 72 hours.

Can an airbag crack your sternum? ›

Sternum and chest injuries caused by airbags

Some of the injuries that an airbag can cause to a driver or passenger involve burns to the chest, sternum fractures, rib fractures, and even an aorta rupture.

Are cars totalled if airbags deploy? ›

Many people believe, and have likely been told, that if the airbags go off after a crash, the vehicle is automatically considered a total loss. This is not true. While a crash that is severe enough to set off the airbags will usually cause enough damage to total the car, it doesn't always.

Is a car considered totaled after airbags deploy? ›

Airbags deploying alone will not necessarily render a car totaled. Generally, a vehicle could only be considered totaled if the cost of repairing the vehicle will exceed the value of the vehicle.

Are cars fixed after airbags deploy? ›

There's a common misconception that airbag deployment means a car is considered a total loss. While it can signify the result of a violent impact, it does not mean that your vehicle cannot be repaired.

What happens if I crash and my airbags didn't deploy? ›

But do you have a case if your airbags do not deploy during a vehicle accident? Yes, you do. If your airbags failed to do their job, then you may pursue legal action against the airbag manufacturer, the car manufacturer, or another liable party.

Will airbags deploy in a rear end or side collision? ›

Deploying the airbag in these crashes will reduce the chances of head injury. This also means that the front airbag will usually not deploy in a side-impact or rear-end collision.

Can a airbag go off without power? ›

Those mechanical airbag systems are less common now because they're not precise enough. In today's vehicles, if the car has been turned off for a while, the airbags won't deploy if it gets hit; however, if the car is stationary but the engine is running, then the airbags will go off if the car gets hit, Beischel said.

How fast mph does an airbag inflate? ›

As mentioned above, air bags explode at speeds of 200 MPH for 12 to 18 inches. This is a violent reaction, necessary to have the bag deployed and beginning to slowly deflate when the occupant contacts the bag.

How many inches does an airbag deploy? ›

In order to be able to reach the pedals, shorter drivers will often have to slide their seats forward until they are less than 10 inches from the steering wheel. According to the IIHS, 10 inches is the minimum amount of space needed for an airbag to fully deploy before a driver makes contact.

Will an airbag deploy if the seatbelt is not on? ›

Airbags are not supposed to deploy if seat belts are not being worn. This is because they can cause serious injury or even prove fatal in such deployments. This is not a failsafe mechanism though. Sometimes people bypass the system by using plugs for their seat belts to switch off the alarm.

Do airbags open when hit from behind? ›

Because the sensors for airbags are usually in the front-end of a vehicle, a rear-end collision may not trigger a deployment. Depending on the type of vehicle you have, this type of crash could result in your vehicle being declared a total loss, yet no airbags were ever deployed.

Who should never be seated in front of an airbag? ›

Never place an infant in a rear-facing child safety seat in the front seat with an air bag. In a crash, the air bag comes out of the dashboard with its force directed at the back of the infant's head if riding in the front passenger seat. The rear seat is the safest place in the car for children younger than 13 years.

Do airbags deploy in Fender Bender? ›

When cars are hit from behind, airbags deploying may cause more damage. As a result, airbags may not deploy during a fender-bender or even a more severe rear-end collision. Unfortunately, that may cause injuries to drivers or passengers.

Why does my eye hurt after airbag? ›

Chemical keratitis or chemical irritation of the cornea occurs in some airbag deployment incidents. A tear in the cornea, which is the clear front area of the eye, can be caused by a sharp object or impact to the eye and usually heals within two or three days.

What does it feel like when an airbag hits you? ›

It can feel like being kicked in the face and chest by a very strong but fluffy bunny. Airbags are meant to keep you from hitting the hardest parts of your car, like the steering wheel, dashboard, glass windows, or metal doors.

How long does airbag pain last? ›

Soreness from Air Bags

This occurs when the airbag deploys and hits the body forcefully. Most people experience only minor discomfort after this type of situation; however, in some instances, the soreness can be more severe. The pain usually goes away within a few days or weeks.

Can airbags cause internal bleeding? ›

If your body makes contact with the quick and high pressured airbag, it can cause internal damage and bruising. Even if you see no bruises externally, there may be internal bruising as well. Injuries to the rib and pelvis are possible, as well as damage to the organs, abdomen, or bowels.

Do airbags bruise your face? ›

Common minor airbag injuries include bruises and abrasions. The force of the airbag being released is enough to damage your skin. You may have scrapes or bruises on your face, neck, and arms. Burns may also occur due to certain chemicals that are needed to deploy airbags during a car accident.

Can an airbag hurt your arm? ›

Flexor Tendon Rupture: This is the most common type of arm injury caused by an airbag deploying. The flexor tendon is located in the forearm and is responsible for bending the elbow.

What is the 1 10th car rule? ›

“To prevent stretching yourself too thin financially, the 1/10th rule for buying cars dictates that you should only spend 1/10th of your gross annual income on a vehicle, whether new or used. For example, if you make $60,000 annually, you should only spend $6,000 on a vehicle.

How many airbags is safe? ›

Side airbags will be soon offered on all cars as 6 airbags will be made mandatory. These airbags protect the occupants in case of a side impact.

What are 3 pre driving adjustments to make if your vehicle is equipped with airbags? ›

Part 1 of 3: Wear your seatbelt at all times
  1. Step 1: Always wear your seat belt. ...
  2. Step 2 Adjust your seat belt comfortably. ...
  3. Step 3: Wear your lap belt low across your hips. ...
  4. Step 4: Take out all slack in your seat belt. ...
  5. Step 1: Allow space in between the air bag.
Mar 30, 2016

What gas fills an airbag? ›

A huge amount of nitrogen gas immediately rushes out with an explosion and fills the airbag. It is amazing that from the time the sensor detects the collision to the time the airbag is fully inflated is only 30 milliseconds, or three one-hundredths of a second! A normal blink of your eye is 100 milliseconds.

What triggers an airbag? ›

An igniter in the inflator starts a chemical reaction that produces a harmless gas, which inflates the air bag within the blink of an eye – or less than 1/20th of a second.

What blows up an airbag? ›

Long-term exposure to high heat and humidity can cause these air bags to explode when deployed. Such explosions have caused injuries and deaths. NHTSA urges vehicle owners to take a few simple steps to protect themselves and others from this very serious threat to safety.

What age should you turn airbag off? ›

In a post on Facebook, Child Seat Safety says children below the age of 12-years-old 'are the most at risk when the frontal airbag deploys in a crash'.

Are airbags safer than seatbelts? ›

"Note also that the effectiveness of a belt-bag system is somewhat less than the sum of the effectiveness ratings of its two components. …" The study says belts are 48 percent effective in preventing fatalities, while airbags are 14 percent effective. But added together, they're just 53.72 percent effective.

Do airbags deploy at 25 mph? ›

Typically, a front airbag will deploy for unbelted occupants when the crash is the equivalent of an impact into a rigid wall at 10-12 mph. Most airbags will deploy at a higher threshold — about 16 mph — for belted occupants because the belts alone are likely to provide adequate protection up to these moderate speeds.

How long does it take to heal from airbag injuries? ›

The healing time for airbag injuries varies depending on the type of injury. Minor injuries, such as bruises and cuts, usually heal within a few days. More serious injuries, such as fractures and tendon ruptures, can take weeks or months to heal completely.

Where should an airbag hit you? ›

The number one tip for airbag safety for short drivers is keeping a safe distance from the air-bag in their steering wheel. NHTSA recommends that there be 10 inches between the air-bag cover and a driver's breastbone.

How bad does an accident have to be to deploy airbags? ›

For unbelted occupants, a front airbag will typically deploy when the crash is the equivalent of an impact into a rigid wall at 10-12 mph. For belted occupants, most airbags will deploy at a higher threshold — about 16 mph — because the belts alone are likely to provide adequate protection up to these moderate speeds.

Can an airbag cause blunt force trauma? ›

There are two main types of burn injuries that can occur as a result of an airbag deployment: thermal burns and ballistic burns. In addition to these physical burn injuries, other forms of trauma – such as blunt force trauma, whiplash, and cuts – are also common outcomes when an airbag is deployed.

How long are you sore after airbag deploys? ›

Soreness from Air Bags

This occurs when the airbag deploys and hits the body forcefully. Most people experience only minor discomfort after this type of situation; however, in some instances, the soreness can be more severe. The pain usually goes away within a few days or weeks.

Should you go to doctor after airbags deploy? ›

If your airbag deploys during a collision, chances are the impact was sufficient to cause a disabling personal injury. The first thing you should do is call 9-1-1 and stabilize any serious problems. If necessary, seek medical attention.

At what pressure do airbags deploy? ›

The working pressures for air bag lifting systems range from 7 psi up to 145 psi. **Note: Another common unit of pressure used with airbags is "bar”. 1 bar = 100 kPa = 14.5 psi.

How many inches does airbag deploy? ›

Similarly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports: “To perform well, an air bag must deploy quickly and forcefully. The force is greatest in the first 2-3 inches after the air bag bursts through its cover and begins to inflate. Those 2-3 inches are the 'risk zone' . . . .

What pressure do you run airbags at? ›

You should always keep 5 lbs. of air pressure in your air bags to prevent any damage. 5 lbs. will not affect your ride but will ensure your air bags last.

Can I sue if airbags didn't deploy? ›

Yes, you can sue if your airbags did not deploy during an accident. However, there might be multiple parties you can sue in such a situation, which is why you should consult an attorney to learn more about your legal options. While airbags should deploy when accidents occur, there are times when they might not.

Will insurance total my car if airbags didn't deploy? ›

Most totaled cars after an accident have had their airbags deployed. But it's never the airbags that cause a car to be totaled; it's the accident. Your insurance provider is the one who estimates how much the repairs will be and makes the final call.

How much does it cost to replace an air bag? ›

On average, one can expect to pay anywhere from $200-$800 per airbag module/assembly. However, this price only covers the cost of parts and excludes any labor. Installation alone will easily cost another $150-$300 per airbag.

What are three examples of blunt force trauma? ›

Falls, collisions, or blows with a blunt instrument such as a hammer, brick, bat, fist, or pipe typically result in blunt force injury.

Can an airbag break your sternum? ›

Some of the injuries that an airbag can cause to a driver or passenger involve burns to the chest, sternum fractures, rib fractures, and even an aorta rupture.


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