What May Cause an Airbag to Not Deploy in an Accident


Since 1999, all vehicles have come equipped with driver and passenger front seat airbags, serving in conjunction with seatbelts as protection in a crash. But what happens when an airbag doesn’t deploy as intended and you or a loved one suffers serious injuries that could otherwise have been prevented by the airbag, such as head injuries, facial injuries, neck injuries, or injuries to the shoulder and clavicle? Airbags are meant to prevent these head and upper body injuries. Why do airbags sometimes fail to deploy in a crash and who is liable for the damages from serious preventable injuries?

Airbag deployment failure

When Should an Airbag Deploy?

Frontal airbags and the side airbags found in some newer vehicles are calibrated to deploy in crashes ranging from moderate to severe. The airbag serves as a cushion between the vehicle occupant and the hard interior structures of the vehicle, like the dash and steering column. They are designed to function together with seatbelts for maximum protection and may cause injury to unrestrained motorists. Airbags aren’t meant to deploy in a minor fender-bender or when hitting a large bump or pothole. When functioning correctly whether or not an airbag deploys depends on the following factors:

  • The speed of the vehicle before the crash
  • The strength and direction of the impact
  • The location of the airbag sensors in the vehicle
  • The design of the airbag system in the vehicle model

Sometimes the airbags should deploy to prevent serious car accident injuries but they fail to deploy appropriately. When this occurs, it’s typically due to a design flaw or manufacturing error.

Causes of Airbag Failure in Accidents

Airbag systems consist of sensors, inflators, and a thin nylon bag meant to forcefully inflate in a crash, and then quickly deflate after absorbing the impact of the motorist in the collision. Depending on the make and model of a vehicle, the airbag is designed to deploy at a specific level of force. If that level of impact occurs and the bag doesn’t deploy, it usually means there was a malfunction. Common causes of airbag failures include the following:

  • Defective sensors: typically due to flawed calibration, improper installation, or a design defect
  • Electrical problems with one or more components of the airbag deployment system
  • Airbag condition, such as airbags improperly replaced after a crash
  • Poor vehicle design that interfered with the function of an airbag
  • Broken inflators

Less commonly, cars with warning lights meant to inform motorists when a failure occurs in the airbag system may not function correctly, leaving vehicle owners with no way of knowing there is a problem with their car’s airbag system.

Who Is Liable for Damages for Injuries After an Airbag Fails to Deploy?

After an accident in fault-based insurance states like Missouri, the driver at fault bears liability for damages like property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for pain and suffering. If an injury victim suffered serious injuries due to an airbag’s failure to deploy, the manufacturer of the vehicle and/or the airbag could share liability. The injury victim could recover compensation through a defective product claim. Manufacturers have strict liability when their products cause injuries due to a design defect, manufacturing error, or improper instructions or warning labels.

Navigating this type of claim requires a skilled investigation showing that the force of the collision was within the range of impact that should have triggered the airbag, but the airbag failed due to a defect or malfunction. Our St. Louis car accident lawyer can help determine the cause and assign liability.