Seat Back Defects and Liability

A seat back is an important safety feature in a vehicle. One of the functions of a seat back is to protect occupants from injury during a collision. Its purpose is similar to the protection provided by a seat belt. A seat belt offers protection in appareils de musculation a front-end collision by restraining the occupant from forward movement, while the seat back should protect the occupant from rearward movement during a rear-end collision. Sometimes, though, a seat back will collapse and cause severe injuries to the occupant. Injuries or death resulting from a seat back failure may be the basis of a product liability claim or a wrongful death claim.

The design of a seat back is for comfort, style, and safety. Safety features include the frame, the seat material, and the mechanism that anchors the seat into place. The use of tubular steel typically provides the framework for vehicle seats. The framework provides the shape for the seat cushions, the springs, and the upholstery material. The combination of these features helps the seat distribute the weight between the occupant and the seat frame.

The seat attachment to the floor is also an important element that must be able to handle the distribution of the occupant’s mass. The seat attachment normally transmits the occupant’s weight from the seat to the floor but the opposite occurs during a collision. The tension comes upward from the floor to the seat. Consequently, a seat must provide adequate anchorage in order to maintain its position.


A well-designed seat back will protect an occupant in a rear-end collision from being thrown rearward. A rear-end collision propels a vehicle forward while occupants are thrust rearward by the force of the impact. A seat back should help the occupant remain in an upright position and should prevent the rearward motion of the occupant. A seat back may fail to protect an occupant for the following reasons: the seat back is unable to withstand the weight of the occupant while in rearward motion, the acceleration of the occupant’s weight during the accident was distributed improperly, the seat back failed to remain in an upright position, or the seat frame or the seat attachment became deformed.

What Happens When a Seat Back Fails?

When a seat back fails to support its occupant the following may result: the driver loses control of the vehicle, the occupant strikes the interior of the vehicle, or the occupant is ejected from the vehicle through a window or door. A seat back that fails may also cause injury to those seated in the rear of the vehicle.

Liability for Injury or Death

Part of the problem of faulty seat backs is the lax standards placed on vehicle manufacturers by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard. Regulations only require that a seat back withstand 270-pounds of force, in contrast to the requirement that a seat belt withstand 6,000 pounds of force. Although safety standards only hold vehicle manufacturers to this standard, a person injured by a defective seat back may bring a lawsuit against the manufacturer when any part of the seat has been defectively designed. If injury or death is the result of a defective seat back, a cause of action may include a claim for product liability or wrongful death.

Product Liability for Auto Defects

Product liability refers to the liability that a supplier of a product owes to the party injured by the defective product. Potential defendants include the manufacturer, the wholesaler, or the retail store. Most states use common law-laws made by judge-to govern product liability cases. However, the sales and goods section of Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) has been adopted by most states.

Negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty of fitness is the basis of a product liability claim. To prevail, all states require the plaintiff prove that the product was defective. The three types of possible defect claims include manufacturing defects, design defects, and inadequate warnings. In most seat back cases, a design defect is the cause. A design defect is a defect that is not part of the manufacturing process but is instead attributable to a flaw in the product design.

Most cases are based on strict liability. Unlike a negligence claim where proof of the defendant’s fault is necessary, strict liability only requires a showing that the product is defective. This is because a defendant, such as a vehicle manufacturer, has a strict duty to make a seat back safe. A vehicle manufacturer is expected to consider the ability of the seat back to withstand a collision because this is a reasonable and foreseeable occurrence. Consequently, a showing that a design was defective is sufficient proof that defendant breached the duty of care.

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