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Types of Injuries Caused by Seat Belts

types of injuries caused by seat belts

Seat belts are a crucial part of saving lives in a car crash, but catastrophic results are often inevitable when they fail to do their job. The types of injuries caused by safety belts can range from minor to catastrophic. 

Millions of seat belts are issued recalls every year, from a faulty latch to a defective shoulder strap. Those injured because of the seat belt defect often have lingering issues, medical bills, and time off work. Treating a seat belt injury may seem minor, but devastating consequences can exist.

To prevent seat belt injury, you need to be aware of the safety and reliability of your car’s seat belt system. It could save your life.

Injuries from Faulty Seat Belts

Common and Uncommon Seat Belt Injuries

Seat belt syndrome:

This set of injuries that occurs when the seat belt suddenly and forcefully compresses the abdomen. Seat belt syndrome injuries can include bruising and abrasions, internal injuries to the abdominal organs, and lumbar spine fractures.

The lap belt portion often causes abdominal and lumbar spine injuries. The shoulder belt can also lead to neck, arm and shoulder injuries. The pattern of injuries provides clues to doctors that seat belt restraint contributed to the trauma.

Head injuries:

If the seat belt is not properly secured or faulty, the occupant can hit their head on the inside of the vehicle, the steering wheel, or the windshield. This can cause serious head injuries, including concussions, skull fractures, and traumatic brain injuries.

Seat belt sign:

A combination of chest and spine or neck injuries that can be severe. The term comes from the mark left on the chest and neck area of the seat belt wearer.

The “seat belt sign” refers to a particular pattern of bruising or other skin injury caused by a seat belt during a motor vehicle collision or other accident. 

It may appear as a reddened area or a straight-line bruise across the chest and abdomen. The shoulder strap can also cause bruising.

Chest and abdominal injuries: 

The seat belt is designed to distribute the force of an impact across the chest and abdomen. If the seat belt is defective, the occupant can suffer serious injuries to these areas, such as internal bleeding, broken ribs, and internal organ damage.

The chest area can also be struck so hard that it causes bruising to the heart and can create irregular heartbeats and chest pain, so seeking a cardiologist immediately is advised.  In very serious cases, the impact on your chest from the steering wheel from a faulty or loose seat belt can stop your heart. 

Neck and spinal cord injuries:

The seat belt can also help to protect the neck and spinal cord from injury in a car accident. If the seat belt is defective, the occupant can suffer severe neck and spinal cord injuries, leading to paralysis or death. 

Whiplash syndrome:

Whiplash syndrome refers to a collection of symptoms that arise from injury to the neck, typically from rapid back-and-forth movement of the head. 

It often occurs during rear-end motor vehicle collisions, when the crash accelerates the torso while the unsupported head lags behind before abruptly snapping forward. When a seat belt is faulty, there is much less protection to prevent whiplash injuries. 

The main symptoms of whiplash include neck pain and stiffness, headache, shoulder/arm pain, dizziness, tingling, nausea, blurred vision, vertigo, and problems with memory or concentration.

Whiplash injuries are graded from I to IV based on severity. Grade I involves minor strains, while Grade IV indicates a more severe injury with actual bone fracture or dislocation.

Bowel injuries:

Seat belt injuries to the bowel are rare but can be serious. They are usually caused by high-force trauma from motor vehicle crashes.

The most common bowel injury is perforation of the small intestine or colon. This allows digestive contents to spill into the abdominal cavity, leading to infection.

Other possible injuries include contusion, transection, intramural hematoma, and mesenteric tears. Symptoms of a bowel injury may include severe abdominal pain, tenderness, nausea, vomiting, fever, and bloody stool. There may also be bruising on the abdomen from the seat belt.

Serious liver damage:

Damage to the liver or laceration of the liver can occur in seat belt injuries from a high-impact motor vehicle accident. A laceration is a cut or tear in the liver tissue, usually caused by blunt force trauma. This can lead to serious internal bleeding.

The sharp edge of a seat belt clasp or buckle is most likely to cause a laceration on impact. Symptoms of a lacerated liver include severe pain in the upper right abdomen, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, and signs of shock like low blood pressure or fast heart rate.

More common seat belt injuries

  • Contusions
  • Cracked Sternum (sternal fracture)
  • Multiple internal organ Injury
  • Aneurysm
  • Burst Appendix
  • Ruptured Spleen
  • Lung Contusions
  • Skeletal Injuries
  • Ruptured Aorta
  • Rib Fractures or (Compound Fractures of the Ribs)
  • Crushed Rib Cage
  • Vertebrae Injuries
  • Soft Tissue Injuries and Damage
  • Concussions
  • Brain or Head Injury
  • Blunt force trauma
  • Paralysis
  • Abdominal and Chest Injuries
  • Pulmonary Contusion
  • Thoracic Injuries
  • Vascular Injuries
  • Intestinal Injury
  • Throat and Thyroid Trauma

Although the use of seat belts has been strongly promoted in the United States for years, many children and adults suffer from serious seat belt-related injuries each year. 

For over three decades, many of the restrain system manufacturers and major vehicle makers in the U.S have been aware that specific seat belt systems are poorly made and have the ability to unlatch in the event of an accident, causing serious injury and even death.

This practice of cutting corners to save a buck has cost lives to be lost. In the same way a car manufacturer uses the cheapest material to construct our car seats, resulting in many devastating seatback injury deaths and injuries.

Seat Belt Injury Treatment

  • Emergency care – For serious injuries that require immediate attention, such as internal bleeding, damaged organs, or fractures. This may involve services like emergency medical services and ambulance transport, ER triage, imaging scans, surgery, or admission to the ICU.
  • Wound care – Treatment for lacerations, abrasions, or bruising caused by the safety belt. It may involve cleaning, closing with stitches, preventing infection, and regular bandage changes.
  • Pain management – Medications, ice/heat therapy, physical therapy, nerve blocks, or other methods to reduce pain from bruised/damaged muscles, bones, and connective tissue.
  • Orthopedic treatment – For fractures, dislocations, spine/neck injuries, or other bone/joint trauma. Involves realignment, casts, splints, surgery, and rehabilitation exercises.
  • Plastic surgery – In some cases, surgery to repair disfiguring injuries like facial lacerations or to minimize scarring.
  • Internal organ repair – Surgeries needed to fix damaged organs like the bladder, intestines, uterus, and bowel.
  • Psychological treatment – Counseling to help cope with emotional trauma and PTSD symptoms after a major crash and injury.

Preventing Seat Belt Injury

Injuries cannot always be avoided outside of a faulty or defective seatbelt. The most important part of starting any car is to buckle up. Accidents will always happen when least expected, so always wear your seat belt. 

Here are some further tips to help avoid injury. 

  • Always wear your seat belt – it dramatically reduces the risk of serious injury and death in a crash.
  • Don’t disable your vehicle’s seat belt alarms.
  • Position the lap belt low across your hips and pelvis, not your stomach. This reduces the risk of abdominal and spinal injuries.
  • The shoulder belt should cross the middle of your chest and collarbone. Avoid putting it under your arm or behind your back. Doing so will not protect you from chest and neck injuries.
  • Snugly adjust belts to fit close to your body. They should not be loose or twisted.
  • Be aware of proper seat belt fit for children in car seats and boosters based on their age/size.
  • Inspect seat belts regularly for any damage, rips, or loose parts.
  • Get faulty belts fixed or replaced immediately. You can check your vehicle’s manufacturer for any seat belt recalls.
  • Replace seat belts after any moderate to severe crash, as they may have unseen damage that will not adequately protect you.
  • Follow manufacturer guidelines completely.
  • Adjust your head restraint properly to reduce whiplash. Have the head restraint up high to protect your neck from throwing back.
  • Don’t disable your seat belt pretensioners or load limiters.
  • If your vehicle lacks modern seat belt safety features, consider new models with advanced restraint technology.

Taking these simple precautions and following safety recommendations can go a long way in preventing unnecessary seat belt injuries. They save lives when worn properly.

Most Dangerous Type of Motor Vehicle Accident Involving a Faulty Seat belt

Based on research and injury data, rear-end collisions tend to cause the most injuries when a defective or faulty seat belt is involved.  

Why rear-end crashes are the most dangerous

  1. Rear impacts often lead to whiplash injuries due to the sudden back-and-forth motion of the head and neck. Faulty seat belts may exacerbate whiplash severity.
  2. Pretensioners help prevent whiplash but may not work properly if defective seat belts are present. This increases the risk of neck strains, disc injuries, and concussions.
  3. Rear crash forces can also cause occupant “submarining,” where they slide downward. Defective lap belts are more likely to allow this, leading to abdominal and spinal injuries.
  4. Improperly positioned shoulder belts that are too loose or not height-adjustable can allow greater forward motion and contact with interior vehicle parts in a rear crash.
  5. Rear collisions usually occur at higher combined speeds than head-on crashes, imparting more force to occupants if seat belts fail or function sub-optimally.


Types of Seat Belts

Lap belts – These go across the waist only. They were the earliest seat belt type but can cause serious abdominal and lumbar spine injuries in crashes (“seat belt syndrome”). No longer used today except in rear middle seats sometimes.

Lap and shoulder belts – Also called 3-point belts, these have a lap belt portion across the waist and shoulder belt diagonal across the chest. Introduced in the late 1960s, they distribute crash forces better than lap belts alone. All front seats have this type now.

Automatic/Passive belts – These attach to the door and automatically fasten around the occupant when the door closes. Popular in the 1980s but they allowed more upper-body movement than 3-point belts, so usage declined.

Pretensioners – These devices tighten the belt a fraction of a second in a crash to hold occupants more snugly. Helps prevent serious seat belt injury. Added to many vehicles by the 1990s.

Load limiters – Allow the belt to spool out a bit to help reduce chest and other injuries in severe crashes. Complement pretensioners and worked into many seat belt designs over the last 20 years.

Inflatable/air belt – recently introduced option with a tubular airbag running through the shoulder belt to distribute crash forces for the head and chest. Still a somewhat new technology.

Seat Belt Statistics in the US

Except for seat belt defects, properly wearing a seat belt increases the chance of survival in a car accident. The following list compiles statistics about people who do and people who do not wear seat belts.

  • Wearing your seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passengers by 45% and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%.
  • Rear car seat belts in SUVs are 73% better at preventing fatalities.
  • Car accident victims are not restrained correctly in over half of fatal motor vehicle accidents.
  • 78.7% of people involved in a car accident wore seat belts.
  • 48.1% of people in fatal car accidents were not wearing seat belts.
  • Of those who were wearing a seat belts, 76,452 were not injured.
  • Of those not wearing a seat belt, 4,605 were not injured.
  • Since 1994, drivers use seat belts 16.5% more often.

So, make sure to buckle up and stay safe in the event of a car accident. It could just save your life. For more information on seat belt statistics, you can visit

Child Car Seats Using Faulty Seat Belts

Seat belts are the main support system that ensures a child’s car seat is secure and stays in place in the event of a sudden maneuver or car accident. When a seat belt device fails, the risk of serious injury or death to a child in a car seat is increased dramatically.

Key statistics on child injuries in car seats related to faulty or defective seat belts:

  • One study found that around 3% of car seat injuries treated in emergency rooms were associated with seat belt issues. This included faulty latching, twisted belts, or damaged belts.
  • Another review of cases from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 52 car seat injuries over three years attributed to seat belt failures. Approximately two-thirds involved infants or toddlers. The most common types of injuries were abrasions and lacerations. However, some cases involved more serious injuries like spinal cord damage.
  • Estimates suggest around 9,000 injuries annually for children aged 0-8 years associated with car seat or seat belt issues.
  • One analysis found seat belt failures contributed to 168 deaths of children under six over a 13-year period. This included faulty buckling, unlocked retractors, and poor belt positioning.
  • Newer safety regulations have reduced issues with car seats and seat belts. One study found the seat belt injury rate declined by around 44% after new standards took effect in 1999.
  • Properly installing and positioning car seats and seat belts are critical to prevent injuries. Nearly 3 out of 4 car seats are estimated to be improperly used.
  • Car seat use reduces the risk of injury in a crash by 71-82% for children compared to seat belt use alone.
  • Booster seats reduce injury risk by 45% compared to seat belts alone.
  • Defective clips and buckles: Defective buckles may come loose or be easily unbuckled, causing a child to pitch forward out of their seat in the event of a collision

Make sure the seat belts in your car are working correctly. Have them checked out by a professional or dealership.

Check to see if your vehicle has any recalls by entering the VIN number at You can find your VIN number on the lower driver side of the windshield, driver door, or on your vehicle’s registration.

Seat Belt Recalls

A defective seat belt can actually do more harm than good in the event of a car accident. Seat belts have been known to detach from their mounting points, rip or tear on impact, lock-in-clips breaking under pressure, and other significantly dangerous situations.

Automotive makers like Hyundai and Ford have dealt with massive seat belt recalls as have many other automakers and seat belt manufacturers.

At you can view a list of the world’s top seat belt manufacturers.

Latest seat belt recalls (2023)

Seat Belt Injury Lawyer to Fight for You

If you or a loved one has suffered from a faulty seat belt injury, you should immediately contact a skilled seat belt injury attorney at Bisnar Chase.

Our auto defect lawyers have the knowledge and experience to successfully represent clients in seat belt defect cases and other auto part liability cases throughout the state.

We will use our experience, knowledge and resources to achieve the best possible results for you and your family. Many of these cases are catastrophic and require long-term medical care. 

Our team of experienced personal injury attorneys will fight for your right to fair compensation. The law firm of Bisnar Chase has a proven record on winning complex auto defect cases including seat belt injuries.

Some of Our Auto Defect Victories

$24,744,764 – Auto defect
$7,998,073 – Product liability – motor vehicle accident
$5,000,000 – Auto Defect
$3,075,000 – Product defect – motor vehicle accident
$2,500,000 – Govt. claim, product defect – motor vehicle accident
$2,600,000 – Auto Defect
$2,432,250 – Product liability – motor vehicle accident
$2,250,000 – Auto defect – motor vehicle accident
$2,000,000 – Defective seatback – motor vehicle accident
$1,900,000 – Auto Defect

Case Results

  • 1


    Consumer Class Action

  • 2


    Motor Vehicle Accident

  • 3


    Auto Defect – Seat Manufacturers, Johnson Controls

  • 4


    Motorcycle Accident

  • 5


    Defective Seatback

  • 6


    Bicycle Accident

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