General Motors is recalling 2014 GMC Sierra full-size pickups and Chevy Silverado trucks because of defective seatbacks. According to a Reuters news report, the seats in the new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 models could fail if the trucks are rear-ended. The models affected by the recall are equipped with manual seat controls that may not properly lock into position when reclined.
So far, 21,721 of the full-size trucks are included in the recall with nearly 19,000 in the United States. GM officials say they have had no reports of injuries or crashes due to these faulty seatbacks.
Seatbacks Could Collapse
Reuters reports that GM has been using warranty claims and internal research data to identify auto defect issues at an early stage. In this particular case, GM officials say a quality inspector discovered the problem when he “threw his weight” against the front seat and “it moved unexpectedly.” This replicates what might happen if one of the trucks is rear-ended.
This is the second issue this year with the new Silverado and Sierra models. In July, the automaker recalled 843 of these new pickup trucks due to airbag system defects that could cause the airbags to fail to deploy in the event of a crash. In the case of the most recent recalls involving the faulty seatbacks, GM has said it will make the necessary repairs at no charge to consumers.
The Danger of Defective Seatbacks
Front seats that collapse backward during a rear-end crash can cause catastrophic injuries or even fatalities. In addition to deaths, seatback collapse can cause serious injuries such as head injuries, broken bones, internal organ damage and spinal cord trauma. Also, when a seatback collapses, occupants can get ejected from the vehicle. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), occupant ejection often results in fatal injuries. The agency reports that three out of four people who are ejected from a vehicle will be fatally injured.
GM Knew of the Dangers
Between 1970 and the mid 1990s, every front seat manufactured by GM was designed to collapse rearward in an impact where there was a speed change of 15 mph or greater. CBS obtained documents for its series on seatback collapses in 1992, which showed that GM attorneys advised top executives that their standard seats could no longer be defended in auto product liability cases. GM knew as early as 1966 that seat strength is directly related to occupant safety in a rear impact crash.
They have known for many decades that occupant survival depends on a front seat structure that holds the passenger in an upright position. A leading GM engineer, David C. Viano, in a 1994 internal GM study, projected that 376 to 470 lives could be saved each year and estimated that improvements would prevent 1,000 serious injuries each year in rear-end collisions if the company strengthened its seat backs. But GM’s seatbacks are still nowhere close to where they need to be in order to keep vehicle occupants safe even in low-speed rear-end collisions.
Anyone who has been injured due to seatback failure would greatly benefit from a consultation with an experienced auto product liability attorney who has successfully handled these types of cases against large automakers.