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One of the most common safety devices in cars today is the airbag. It is a life-saving tool designed to prevent lethal injuries, particularly in front or side collisions. In 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that since 1975, airbags have saved 50,457 lives.

Unfortunately, the force from an expanding airbag can also cause injuries to vehicle occupants. For instance, it’s common for drivers to suffer airbag injuries to the arms, chest, and neck. While these injuries tend to be more minor than the injuries the occupants would have suffered in a crash with no airbags, they can still result in medical bills or even lost wages.

Understanding the types of injuries you may experience when an airbag deploys and how to treat them while waiting for paramedics can help you effectively deal with the aftermath of a collision. 

How Airbag Injuries Happen

When your car’s sensors detect a potentially dangerous impact, it ignites a propellant charge to deploy your airbags. The burning propellant generates gas, which fills the airbag within a fraction of a second. When it works correctly, the airbag acts as a cushion, stopping your body from impacting hard objects such as the steering wheel, dashboard, or doors.

The NHTSA reports that airbags can reduce fatalities by 14% even when seatbelts are not worn and 11% when the occupant is wearing their seat belt when the airbag deploys.

However, while the airbag’s cushioning capabilities are proven to save lives, the impact forces generated by a car crash are still considerable. Hitting an airbag can still cause painful injuries, even when they work correctly.

If your airbag system malfunctions, such as a sensor failing to deploy the airbag on time or a defective airbag module, the types of injuries you might receive can be more severe. According to an NHTSA study of fatal crashes, roughly 8% of airbags failed to deploy for drivers and passengers in the front seat.

Common Types of Airbag Injuries

When a collision occurs, such as a rear-end or side-impact crash, you may suffer injuries from your airbag. These can include the following:

  • Face and chest injuries: When the frontal airbag deploys, it can result in bruises and minor wounds to the head or chest, depending on which body part is struck.
  • Arm and wrist injuries: In an impact resulting in airbag deployment, the driver may receive injuries to the arms and wrists. This is because these body parts are the closest to the airbags’ deployment zones.
  • Traumatic lung injuries: When an airbag expands directly into a driver or passenger’s chest, it can result in lung damage from airbag deployment. Airbags can compress the chest and ribcage inward, causing chest pain, breathing issues, and injuries like broken ribs or punctured lungs.
  • Friction burns: Sometimes referred to as airbag abrasions, these injuries occur when the head, chest, arms, or other body parts forcefully rub against the airbag’s surface during the impact. The risk of friction burns increases if the airbag’s cover material is hot, such as during a summer day.
  • Broken bones: While airbags are intended to reduce the risk of severe injuries, they can sometimes cause them. In specific cases, bad positioning or a forceful airbag deployment can caused fractured limbs, ribs, and broken noses.

If an airbag hurts you during a collision, you can seek compensation. In Louisiana, including in New Orleans or Baton Rouge, this typically means filing a claim against a negligent driver who caused the accident that made the airbag go off.

In recent years, cases of defective airbags have surged, such as the ongoing Takata product recall, which involves airbags exploding and injuring passengers with shrapnel. If you are injured by a defective airbag, you may be able to hold the manufacturer responsible for your damages.

How to Care for Airbag Injuries

If you’re injured with airbag deployment, you can use various first-aid techniques to manage your injuries while waiting for paramedics to arrive. Depending on the nature of your injuries and your access to a first-aid kit, do the following:

  • Clean any minor abrasions or open wounds with sterile wipes to prevent infection.
  • Patch up any cuts or wounds with clean, dry bandages. If you have antibacterial ointment, apply some to each wound before bandaging them.
  • Apply a first-aid kit cold pack to any area that appears burned or swollen. If you don’t know how to treat airbag burns on the face, avoid touching the swollen areas and wait for the paramedics to arrive.
  • Do not try to remove shrapnel or other foreign objects yourself. Wait for medical assistance first.
  • Use a splint or sling to immobilize potentially broken or fractured bones.
  • If you are experiencing difficulties breathing, try to take slow, deep breaths and remain as calm as possible.

Remember, first-aid is only that: the first aid you get, not the only aid you need. Even with these immediate first-aid measures, always consult a medical professional post-accident. Not only does this ensure proper diagnosis and treatment, but it also establishes vital medical records linking your injuries to the incident.

Call an Auto Accident Attorney After a Crash

If you were injured by an airbag deployment in a car accident caused by a negligent driver, contact a skilled auto accident attorney as soon as possible. Our attorneys at Dudley DeBosier can review your case, determine the liable parties, and help you receive compensation for your injuries.

We understand that you shouldn’t have to pay for an injury due to someone else’s negligent behavior — we can fight for your rights and negotiate a fair settlement for all damages resulting from your accident. Our specialized attorneys have extensive experience dealing with auto accidents throughout Louisiana, including in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. We’re here to support you throughout the process. Contact us today for a free case review.

Disclaimer: This content has been reviewed by Chad Lederman, Director of Legal Operations at our New Orleans office.

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