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Will Congress Finally Act to Stop Deadly Motor Vehicle Seat Back Failures?

Aug 04, 2020

WigRum Supports the 2020 Modernizing Seat Back Safety Bill

This month, new motor vehicle safety legislation was proposed in the U.S. Senate designed to address the ongoing tragedy facing many families in this country caused by seat back failures, where all too often children are killed or permanently harmed in preventable accidents. See, “Bill Could Force Automakers to Confront Safety Hazard Blamed for Dozens of Child Deaths a Year,” written by Megan Towey and Kris Van Cleave and published by CBS News on July 4, 2020.

Proposed New Federal Seat Back Safety Law

Introduced by Senator Edward Markey (D- Mass) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D – Conn) on July 1, 2020 this bill, known as the Modernizing Seat Back Safety Act, is described by its authors (emphasis added) as: “address[ing] the thousands of preventable fatalities and life-threatening injuries that have occurred because of motor vehicle seat failure during a collision.

The legislation will require NHTSA to update its standards for seat back integrity in new cars, an essential action that NHSTA has neglected to take for more than fifty years despite repeated tragedies.”

FMVSS 207: Antiquated Federal Seat Back Safety Standard

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 207 is the current federal regulation for seat backs (see, 49 C.F.R. § 571.207). This seat back safety standard is over 50 years old. It is antiquated and clearly does not jive with current motor vehicle design, manufacture, and production.

Nevertheless, safety experts, victim’s advocates, and car makers themselves know that most motor vehicles on the roads today are sold with weak seats that collapse in rear end collisions. A crash at low speeds can kill or permanently harm the vehicle’s occupants.

Profits speak louder than principles to these car manufacturers. It is only through legislative acts, such as the proposed Modernizing Seat Back Safety Bill, as well as judicial action where plaintiffs pursue civil claims for justice in the aftermath of these preventable accidents, that seat backs will be safer for us all.

WigRum Supports the 2020 Modernizing Seat Back Safety Act

WigRum accordingly applauds this proposed new federal law as shockingly overdue. For many years, we have advocated for justice in the aftermath of serious and deadly seat back failures after defective design and product error have caused seats to fail to withstand the impact of a crash. The result has been the untimely death or permanent injury of the seat’s occupant in what can only be characterized as a preventable accident if the manufacturer and designer of the vehicle’s seat had acted in a reasonable and proper manner.

For more on our past experience in seat back injury matters, please review our Verdict and Settlements and Case Summaries pages.

$125 Million Seat Back Failure Jury Verdict

Our perception of the need for this legislation, and our support of the 2020 Modernizing Seat Back Safety Act, is based in part on our first-hand experience with seat back failure cases in this country, including our representation of the family of Jessie Rivera, Jr., against Audi AG and Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., where a Bexar County, Texas jury awarded $124,500,000.00 in response to the seat back failure of his father’s Audi A4.

Jessie sustained catastrophic injuries including severe brain damage, partial paralysis, and blindness. Evidence in the case showed that the 11-year-old boy was injured when the car in which he was a passenger was struck from behind, and the seat back of the driver, the boy's father, unexpectedly collapsed, fell backward, and the father's body struck the boy in the head.

60 Minutes Exposé: Seat Back Failure Warnings in 1992

On Feb. 16, 1992, the CBS program "60 Minutes" aired a report on the issue of seat back failure. In rear-end collisions, seat backs – not airbags or other restraint systems – are the primary protection for injury.

"This type of automobile defect has been known about for around 50 years," explains Jeff Wigington.

"When '60 Minutes' aired its report, the safety standards then in effect were essentially the same as they are today. Jessie Rivera’s case – and many others across the country – shows the need for tougher, upgraded safety standards. All consumers, but especially parents, should be pressing Congress to strengthen these standards and protect drivers and passengers."

Please visit our News Coverage page to watch Jeff Wigington’s CBS News interview dealing with seat back failures as well as coverage of the Rivera verdict.

WigRum Represents Victims of Seat Back Failures and Their Families

Until seat backs are safe, WigRum will continue to fight for right against these blatant product defects being placed into the marketplace each year. Right now, we are pursuing several seat back failure cases against Chrysler and Nissan.

At WigRum, we are incensed that the automotive industry knowingly ignores the reality of seat back failure risks to motor vehicle occupants as the choice is made to pursue profit over public safety.

It is unacceptable that these multi-national corporations lean upon obsolete 50+ year old federal regulations as their excuse to ignore well-known and established seat back dangers.

Accordingly, Wigington Rumley Dunn & Blair LLP enthusiastically supports the passage of the 2020 Modernizing Seat Back Safety Act.