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Auto Product Liability: 1992 Volkswagen Jetta Lap Belt Danger

Most auto product liability lawyers will admit that seat belts can be critical to the survival of a car accident. In 2004, Chelsea Pursell, a 16-year old high school sophomore was in a 1992 Volkswagen Jetta with four other teens. It was close to midnight in Allentown, PA when the driver apparently lost control of the car. The Jetta abruptly jumped a curb and hit a utility pole. Upon impact, Pursell, who was in the middle back seat and wearing only a lap-style seat belt, sustained severe and permanent injuries.

Everyone in the car was hurt, but none were as severely injured as Pursell, and none were left permanently disabled. Pursell's lap belt rode up from her pelvis to her abdomen as the force of the crash caused a "submarining" effect that pulled her down into the seat. The belt tore into her abdomen, ripping into her intestines, fracturing her spinal cord and causing other internal injuries.

Pursell was in and out of the hospital for two years after the car crash and endured numerous surgeries. Her medical care was estimated at around $5 million, with future costs amounting to roughly $2 million.

The Pursell's filed a auto product liability suit against Volkswagen. Their attorneys alleged that the lap belt caused Chelsea's devastating internal injuries, since she was the only occupant in the backseat wearing a seat belt and the only one who was permanently injured.

"Chelsea was doing what her parents, the public media, and even Volkswagen advised her to do: buckle up for safety," said John Bisnar, nationally recognized auto product liability attorney. "Yet it was that prudent and precautionary act that caused her so much injury and suffering. Regrettably, auto engineers seemed to have ignored the middle backseat passenger time and again, falsely reasoning that few people actually sit in the center and that fewer still bother to buckle up. Unfortunately, the injuries just kept pilling up, so the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated that since September 1, 2007, all new cars sold in the United States must have a combination lap and shoulder belt in all back seat positions. A mandate that was long overdue."

Volkswagen alleged that the utility pole had been placed too close to the road. If it had been in the right spot, the car collision could have been avoided, Volkswagen argued. The jury partially agreed, handing down a $10.2 million verdict against Volkswagen, the local utility and the driver of the car (who had been drinking). The jury assigned 51 percent of the liability for the car crash to driver, 39 percent to Volkswagen and 10 percent to the utility.

Today, Chelsea lives fairly independently at home with her parents. A video shown in court depicted a day in her life, how she gets up, is able to shower, get dressed, get into her wheelchair and into her car to drive to her college classes.

"For the longest time, verdicts were coming down one after another against car makers who kept insisting that lap belts were safe without the need for supplementary shoulder restraints," said Brian Chase of the nationally recognized Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys defective auto product law firm. "The Pursells demonstrated a great deal of courage and tenacity in going after Volkswagen. Holding them accountable for a seat-belt system that was unsafe raised everyone's consciousness to the problem and undoubtedly prevented serious injuries. Our sincere hope is that these lawsuits, and the many lawsuits we have filed against other car makers will convince them to design safer seat belt systems and prevent others from being needlessly injured or killed."

If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as the result of a defective auto part or vehicle, contact the experienced California auto products liability attorneys at Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys for a free consultation. We will use our extensive knowledge and resources to achieve the best possible results for you and your family.


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Disclaimer: The legal information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Any results set forth here were dependent on the facts of that case and the results will differ from case to case. Bisnar Chase serves all of California. In addition, we represent clients in various other states through our affiliations with local law firms. Through the local firm we will be admitted to practice law in their state, pro hac vice.

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