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What Should I Do If An Airbag Caused An Injury?

Steven Matz
January 19, 2023 | Car Accident, Passenger Injuries In Car Accidents

From 1987 to 2017, vehicle airbags saved over 50,000 lives – enough people to fill every seat at a major league ballpark. Yet, despite their critical role in your safety, airbags can often cause injuries during a car accident. If you are involved in a car crash and sustain injuries from an airbag, do not hesitate to call the car accident attorneys at Matz Injury Law. We can help you put a true dollar amount to your injuries, fight insurance for a fair settlement, and even file a car accident lawsuit if needed. Call us at 866-226-6833 to set up a free consultation.

How Hard Do You Have to Get Hit for Airbags to Deploy?

While you know your motor vehicle contains airbags for your benefit, you may not be aware of how hard you have to be hit during an accident for them to deploy. Essentially, airbags will deploy during a moderate to severe crash – which is usually the equivalent of hitting a solid, fixed barrier at 8-14 mph, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This deployment threshold occurs in both frontal and side airbags, depending on the type of crash.

How Do Airbags Work?

closeup of a car's airbag

Frontal airbags are tucked inside the steering wheel and front passenger side panel (in the dashboard). Many passenger vehicles today also contain side-impact airbags, and these are located in the doors. When impact occurs during an accident, a crash sensor detects the impact and deploys the airbags. This deployment will usually occur when you are in a near head-on or direct head-on collision with another vehicle or structure. The timing of this deployment is crucial to protect the driver and passenger from severe injuries.

If the impact is severe enough, it can trigger an internal ignitor which then produces a gas, such as nitrogen, to fill the airbag in approximately 1/20th of a second. The airbag will then deflate quickly, potentially releasing chemicals and dust as it does so. In some instances, a crash sensor can malfunction, allowing an incorrect deployment of the airbag, which can result in a serious injury.

Do Airbags Hurt More Than They Save?

Airbags are meant to help protect you and your passengers from slamming into objects or the vehicle’s interior during impact. Yet, due to their design, they can still sometimes hurt you.

Airbag inflation requires intense, sudden energy, and this intense energy can result in injury to those drivers and passengers who are sitting too close to where the airbag deploys or are thrown into this area as a result of the accident. In other words, how close you are to the airbag before it deploys can determine the extent of your injury and may even cause fatalities.

Airbags killed around 290 people from 1990 to 2008. Most of the people killed were unbelted or improperly restrained, thus putting them in closer proximity to the airbag just prior to deployment.

Serious injuries from properly functioning airbags are rare thanks to changes in government regulations today. Still, in some cases, faulty airbag systems are to blame, resulting in failure of the driver’s airbag to deploy, incorrect timing or amount of force for the deployment, or the inclusion of defective airbag parts.

While airbag system recalls by the government are in the news these days, such as the Takata recall beginning in 2015, your vehicle may not be on one of these recall lists yet, so you may not be aware of any existing problem.

What Are the Most Common Airbag Injuries in Michigan?

Airbag deployment, while meant for protection and to save lives, can sometimes also lead to injury. Some of the most common airbag injuries in Michigan include the following.

Head, Neck, and Brain Injuries

Frontal airbags inflate to provide protection for the head so it doesn’t come into contact with hard objects. Yet, the sheer force of the airbag deploying, in addition to the collision itself, can result in higher applications of pressure, which may lead to head injuries. Drivers and passengers can sustain traumatic brain injuries as a result, suffering concussions, swelling of the brain, and more severe conditions.

You may also experience a whiplash injury, which is when the head and neck are thrown in one direction and then the other in rapid succession.

Eye Injuries

Since the airbag deploys at face level, the eyes are directly in its path and can take on the brunt force of the deployment. In turn, you may suffer a broken bone that affects the eye or the optical nerve itself, leading to vision loss and even permanent blindness. Also, with deployment, a powder within the airbag is released, and this can lead to eye irritation.

Dental Injuries

The impact of the head with the airbag can cause damage to your jaw and teeth, resulting in various dental injuries. It may break, crack, chip, or loosen teeth. It can also knock them out completely.


Airbags require force to deploy, and this force can cause various fractures. These fractures commonly occur in the nose and eye areas, where the bones are most fragile. Other areas to suffer broken bones include the jaw, upper extremities, wrists, ribs, and clavicle.

Cuts and Bruises

Contact with a deploying airbag can lead to various cuts, abrasions, bruises, and contusions on your face, head, neck, and upper torso. If you are wearing glasses, these can shatter and cause lacerations to occur. While cuts and bruises are often considered to be minor, they can sometimes be signs of underlying issues, such as internal bleeding or other internal injuries, so always undergo a medical examination following an accident.

Hearing Damage and Tinnitus

Upon impact, a quick, small explosion occurs to deploy the airbag. The sound produced by this explosion can reach up to 160 decibels, which is beyond what the human ear can process without sustaining some level of hearing damage. Such damage may cause hearing loss or a constant ringing in the ear, a common symptom of the condition called tinnitus.

Chemical Burns

For deployment of an airbag, an interior chemical ignites, filling the device with a nitrogen gas. As a result, you can suffer chemical burns as you collide with the airbag and if it ruptures or deflates. Burns can occur on the face, hands, arms, or chest area and are usually second or third-degree, requiring immediate medical treatment.

What is Airbag Burn, and How Do You Treat It?

With airbag deployment, drivers or passengers can suffer burns, both chemical and friction-related.

When the impact of a vehicle accident occurs, it immediately triggers an electrical charge in the airbag deployment system, causing an explosion of the interior chemical (either sodium hydroxide or sodium azide). This chemical converts to a nitrogen gas to inflate the airbag itself. Upon contact with the airbag, it may rupture and release the hot gas and, in turn, burn you.

Friction burns occur as a result of you coming into contact with the airbag as it deploys at high speed. Friction burns are usually surface only. Most common spots for friction burns include the face, neck, arms, and upper torso.

If you suffer burns during a car crash where the airbag deploys, seek medical evaluation and, if necessary, airbag burn treatment. Knowing how to care for your injury in the best way possible can keep infection from setting in and lessen the severity of the burn injury itself.

Follow all directions provided by your healthcare provider in these instances. If your medical team applies bandages, understand the process for changing them daily. While many burns can heal within a week or two, always look for signs of infection developing, and if so, seek follow-up care as soon as possible.

Can Airbag Dust Cause Injuries?

Airbags are made of chemicals that make it possible for them to deploy at extremely fast speeds. These chemicals, either sodium azide or sodium hydroxide, are then released as dust during a crash. This dust can cause various injuries, including chemical burns. It can also lead to breathing problems, including asthma attacks, due to the inhalation of the dust into your lungs.

Other potential injuries and effects of the dust include skin and eye irritations, headaches, blurred vision, and a burning sensation in the eyes, on the skin, and to the inner membranes.

How to Prevent Airbag Injuries

While airbags are meant as a protection measure, there are a few things you and your passengers can do to help prevent airbag injuries from occurring.

According to the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), the following tips can make a difference in whether or not you suffer injury and in the severity of any injury when airbags do deploy.

1. Sit Upright with Your Arms to Your Sides

Drivers and passengers occupying the front seat should try to sit upright in the center of the seat at all times while traveling in a vehicle. Your arms need to remain to your sides and not resting between your body and where the airbag deploys. Always press your back into the seat and avoid leaning forward or sideways.

2. Sit 10 Inches or More Away from the Center of the Steering Wheel

For maximum protection, the driver should sit a minimum of 10 inches away from the steering wheel. Depending on your height, you may find that you need to position your seat forward, so you are closer to the pedals and steering wheel, putting you less than the recommended 10 inches. In such circumstances, recline the seat slightly, so your head and neck are further away from the deployment zone.

3. Put Children in the Back Seat

For the highest safety of your children, always put them in the back seat, regardless of age. Airbags are designed for adults with forceful pressure that can be dangerous to smaller children.

4. Use the Appropriately Sized Car Seat

Childs forward facing car seat in a car

Always use the appropriately sized car seat for your baby or young child to provide the maximum protection in a crash with airbag (side) deployment.

5. Always Wear a Seat Belt

Seat belts are meant to tighten, preventing a driver or passenger’s head and upper torso from jerking forward and slamming into something. This tightening can also keep you away from the area where the airbag deploys.

Seat belts and airbags work together as safety devices to protect you in an accident, and today’s newer airbag systems contain a safety belt sensor. With this sensor, the algorithm the system uses to determine when and if to deploy an airbag includes whether or not you are wearing your seatbelt.

For those not wearing a seat belt, the airbags typically deploy when the crash occurs at 10-12 mph (lower threshold). If you are wearing your seatbelt, the airbag will likely not deploy until you reach a slightly higher threshold, which is usually 16 mph. The reason for this is that it factors in that the seatbelt will provide a certain level of protection for impacts occurring at the lower speed.

What Should I Do If I am Injured By My Airbag During a Michigan Car Accident?

In the aftermath of a car accident, thoughts and events can quickly become overwhelming. Yet, there are steps you need to take if injured by your airbag.

1. Call Emergency Services as Soon as Possible

Following the accident, call emergency services. Burns and other injuries are serious and should be treated as soon as possible. First responders will be able to start treating you at the accident scene, which can be essential to the severity of the injury and required healing time. Immediate treatment for burns, in particular, will be highly beneficial.

2. Save Your Airbag

If you sustain injuries due to a faulty airbag or crash sensor, it is important that you keep them to serve as evidence. Even if you are unsure whether or not it is faulty, save it anyway for examination. Your car accident attorney will be able to use this as evidence in your injury claim or a personal injury lawsuit.

3. Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

Once you receive medical attention for your injuries, contact a personal injury attorney with experience representing those injured in car accidents for legal advice.

Recover Four Times the Compensation for Your Airbag Injury with Matz Injury Law

When it comes to injuries sustained in an auto accident, you will need not only time to heal but also compensation to cover expenses, lost wages, and more.

Recent surveys show that having legal representation leads to higher personal injury payouts today. Those who hired a personal injury lawyer to help with their case received, on average, $77,600, while those who were on their own walked away with only $17,600. In most of these cases, a 33% contingency fee was deducted by a law firm employing the hired attorney.

To improve upon this, Matz Injury Law deducts only 22% contingency, leaving you with more money to recover from your injuries. In other words, you are more likely to recover four times the compensation for your airbag injury with the help of our law firm.

Do not let the insurance company bully you into accepting a low settlement. Contact our office today by calling 866-226-6833 or use our online contact form to schedule a free case evaluation to get started.

steven matz headshot

Written By Steven Matz

Founding Shareholder

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury.

The maximum contingency fee permitted by law is actually 331/3%. Michigan court rules require that the attorney fee be computed on the net sum recovered after deducting all disbursements properly chargeable to the enforcement of the claim.

What does 22not33 mean, exactly?

We can charge 22% while virtually all other injury attorneys charge 331/3% because we are very, very, good at obtaining results for our clients.

We do not spend millions of dollars on television ads; instead, we offer a lower fee to all our clients. We do not have dozens of lower paid associates handling our work. All our clients are represented by Steven and Jared Matz. Steven Matz started the firm in 1977 and since then has dedicated his life to representing injury victims. Jared joined the firm in 2016 but grew up listening to stories, discussing theories, and generally learning at the dinner table about how to effectively and compassionately represent injury victims. Jared Matz was literally born to represent individuals involved in motor vehicle crashes.

All of our cases are handled on a contingency fee and all our cases are handled at 22%. Whether the case settles or goes through trial, the fee does not change. While our competitors make excuses as to why they charge so much, we are obtaining results for our clients at a lower fee.

At a typical television advertising law firm, your first call will be handled by a receptionist, who may refer you to an intake person, who will discuss your claim with an intake manager, who then discusses your claim with an associate, who may then report to a partner. You may never speak with the person whose name is at the top of the letterhead. At Matz Injury Law you will always speak with either Steven Matz or Jared Matz.