Warning: Driving With Automobile Seats Reclined Can Cause Death

May 17, 2010
By Dan Irving Cytryn, Esq. on May 17, 2010 2:11 PM | | Comments (0)

If you like reclining your seat back when riding in a car, you should be aware of the danger in doing so. Last month a federal jury in Texas awarded $1.8 million to the family of a young woman who lost her life in a car accident while riding as a passenger with her seat fully reclined. It is recommended that automobile seats should not be reclined past a 45 degree angle while traveling because the seat belt system becomes less effective and places the passenger at a greater risk of injury or death.

In July 2007, 19-year-old Sarah Goodner was napping in the front seat of a Hyundai Tucson driven by her sister when the SUV rolled over. Goodner was ejected from the vehicle even though she was wearing her seatbelt. According to trial evidence, Goodner slid out from under the lap belt. The jury blamed Hyundai for "using a defective reclining seat system." Goodner's attorney said Hyundai did not use safety technology that would keep seats from being reclined further than a 45 degree angle or use a system that would bring a tilted seat back to its upright position if an automobile accident occurs. Hyundai attorneys argued that the vehicle driven by Goodner's sister met vehicle standards and had a 5-star safety rating. They also argued that people should read the fine print in the owner's manual.

Reclining one's seat to extreme angles while traveling in a vehicle is extremely unsafe. At greater than a 45 degree angle, the seatbelt straps ride higher up on the body than they are supposed to, causing the upper strap to sit near or on the neck and the lower strap to sit closer to the stomach. This can be dangerous during a car accident because the force against the seat belt could cause injuries such as internal bleeding . In addition to risking injuries from the seatbelts, the positioning of the body at these angles makes it more susceptible to serious spinal cord injury or even death, as in Sarah Goodner's case.

In the late 1980's, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration research the risk of seat reclining, but the NHTSA dismissed the request, in part because the owner's manuals offered warnings to consumers about the potential risk. Despite the concern from the NTSB, warning labels on automobile seats have yet to become a requirement for auto makers.

Concerned consumers should check their vehicle's owner's manual and ensure they are properly using all safety equipment before operating the automobile. It is also important for people to understand the dangers of reclining one's car seat and to keep that in mind while riding in a vehicle.

Dan Irving Cytryn is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer handling injury and accident cases for more than 29 years. He has received a 10.0 rating on AVVO, a lawyer rating service, which is the highest rating given for a lawyer. He is also rated the highest ability and ethics rating, "AV", by Martindale Hubbell, a company rating lawyers for more than 100 years.

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