What Do I Do If an Airbag Didn’t Deploy in an Accident?

Published On: February 10, 2024
Categories: Car Accidents

As a driver, you expect your airbags to deploy and protect you and other occupants of your vehicle in the event of a collision. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, as airbags may sometimes fail to deploy in an accident. When this happens, you and your passengers are at risk of suffering severe and debilitating injuries.

So, what do you do if an airbag in your vehicle did not deploy in an accident or its deployment was delayed? Depending on the facts of your case, you might have legal remedies available. One of them may be filing a claim against the vehicle manufacturer or the airbag.

In this post, we will review the common reasons why airbags may not deploy in an accident and explain when such non-deployment or delayed deployment allows you to pursue legal action to hold the liable parties accountable. Consult a seasoned New Port Richey car accident attorney immediately after an accident.

How Do Airbags Work?

What Do I Do If an Airbag Didn’t Deploy in an Accident

When it comes to vehicle safety features, few have had such a profound impact on saving lives as airbags. Designed to provide a cushion during a collision, airbags are sophisticated systems that work in the blink of an eye to protect passengers. Statistically, frontal airbags have saved an estimated 50,000 lives over the past three decades.

Airbag Mechanics: A Lifesaving Puff of Air

Airbags are essentially made of a thin, nylon fabric folded into the vehicle’s steering wheel, dashboard, seat, door, or roof. The key to their lifesaving capability lies in their rapid deployment when a collision occurs.

When a collision takes place, the vehicle undergoes a sudden deceleration. Sensors in the car detect this rapid change of speed and send a signal to the airbag’s control unit. The severity of the impact and particular details of the collision are analyzed in milliseconds, determining whether or not airbag deployment is necessary. After all, if the driver suddenly applies the brakes and does not hit anything, they probably do not need their airbags to deploy despite the sudden deceleration.

If the control unit decides to deploy the airbag, it triggers an ignition of a gas generator inside the airbag module. This leads to a chemical reaction that produces nitrogen gas, inflating the airbag. This inflation is extremely fast, as the airbags typically take only about 25 to 50 milliseconds to inflate fully.

Sensing the Crash: The Role of Triggering Sensors

The sensors that trigger airbag deployment are highly sensitive and calibrated to differentiate between crashes and minor bumps or jostling. These sensors can include accelerometers, impact sensors, and wheel speed sensors. Together, they provide data that informs whether a collision event is severe enough to require airbag deployment.

Accelerometers, mounted at the center of the vehicle, measure the rate at which the vehicle slows down, while impact sensors closer to the front and rear end – usually inside the doors – detect and evaluate the force of a collision.

The Complexity of Safety: System Malfunctions and Recalls

While airbags are a marvel of safety engineering, like any electronics, they are not immune to malfunctions. Faulty sensors, electrical issues, or even software problems can result in airbags not deploying when needed or deploying at inappropriate times.

To address this, manufacturers have recall systems to fix these issues. Vehicle owners may be notified if their car is subject to a recall concerning airbag safety or other problems. It is critical to stay informed about these recalls to ensure your vehicle’s safety features are functioning correctly. Neglecting them can mean the difference between life and death in a severe crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends checking for open recalls related to your vehicle’s make and model at least twice a year.

Why Airbags May Not Deploy in an Accident

While airbags are designed to deploy in a fraction of a second to cushion the impact, there are instances where they may not deploy as expected. Understanding why this might happen is essential when building a legal claim against the liable parties.

Malfunctioning Sensors

Airbags rely on advanced sensors to determine when to deploy. These sensors are tasked with detecting a collision’s force, speed, and nature. Sometimes, these sensors can malfunction due to electrical issues, software glitches, or physical damage. If a sensor fails to send the correct signal during a crash, it can result in the airbags not deploying when they should.

The Accident Was Not Severe Enough

Sometimes, airbags will not deploy because the accident did not meet the necessary threshold of severity determined by the vehicle’s design. As mentioned earlier, the deployment of airbags is an intricate mechanism that relies on various sensors, including accelerometers and impact sensors. If the sensors do not detect a collision severe enough to necessitate the deployment of airbags, the airbags won’t deploy.

Maintenance and Damage

As with everything in your car, regular maintenance is critical to ensure your airbags and other vehicle safety features remain fully operational. Ignoring service lights or neglecting routine inspections can result in unidentified damage in the airbag system that can pose a threat to your life and the lives of your passengers. Previous accidents can also damage sensors or the airbag module, which may not be noticeable until a subsequent collision occurs when the airbags fail to deploy.

Impact Angle

Airbags are typically designed to deploy in moderate to severe frontal and near-frontal collisions. However, if the impact angle is not within the range the sensors are programmed to detect, the airbags might not deploy. In some cases, the system may determine that the restraints provided by seatbelts are sufficient, given the angle and severity of the impact.

Vehicle Design and Compatibility

Not all airbags are created equally, and vehicle design is crucial in their functionality. Some models may have airbags less sensitive to certain impacts, or compatibility issues with aftermarket parts may affect deployment. A thorough inspection by a skilled auto mechanic can identify potential compatibility issues.

Seatbelt Usage

The role of seatbelts is not only to restrain vehicle occupants but also to work in conjunction with airbags to save their lives. In many vehicles, airbags are programmed to deploy only if the seatbelt is fastened, under the assumption that an occupant is seated and secured. Not wearing a seatbelt increases the risk of injury and might prevent the airbag from deploying during a crash.


Manufacturers occasionally recall vehicles due to defects in airbag systems. Owners who do not comply with such recalls risk having non-functional airbags. One of the largest safety recalls in U.S. history is the Takata airbag recall, which affected tens of millions of vehicles due to airbags exploding upon deployment after long-term exposure to heat and humidity.

For further investigation of your specific case, especially if you believe there is a malfunction or defect in your airbags, consider seeking legal advice from a lawyer. Legal support or consultation with a lawyer can provide more insight into your rights and the next steps for any action that may need to be taken following an airbag-related incident.

What Kind of Injuries Can You Suffer When Airbags Do Not Deploy in an Accident?

Airbags not deploying when they should put vehicle occupants, including the driver, at risk of suffering severe and life-threatening injuries. Some of the most common types of injuries a proper and timely deployment of airbags can prevent or minimize include:

What Kind of Injuries Can You Suffer When Airbags Do Not Deploy in an Accident

  • Head and brain injuries. Without the cushioning effect of a deployed airbag, drivers and front-seat passengers are likely to experience traumatic head and brain injuries. These can range from concussions to more severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), which might lead to long-term cognitive issues or even disability.
  • Facial injuries. The face is highly susceptible to injury when auto accidents occur. Broken noses, fractured jawbones, dental injuries, and lacerations can result when the face strikes the steering wheel, dashboard, or windshield without the protection of an airbag.
  • Neck and spinal injuries. The whipping motion of a car crash can cause whiplash, particularly if the head and neck are not supported. Without airbags, there is also a higher risk of vertebrae fractures or spinal cord injuries, which can lead to paralysis in severe cases.
  • Chest injuries. In the absence of deployed airbags, the chest area might absorb most of the impact during a collision, leading to broken ribs, punctured lungs, or cardiac contusions, which can be life-threatening if not addressed promptly.
  • Abdominal injuries. Without the restraint of an airbag, the abdomen can be thrust forward into the steering wheel or dashboard, causing soft tissue injuries or damage to internal organs, such as the liver, spleen, or kidneys.
  • Upper and lower extremity injuries. Arm and leg injuries, including fractures, dislocations, and sprains, can occur as upper and lower extremities may flail or collide with the interior of the vehicle when airbags fail to deploy.

Statistically, front airbags are estimated to reduce driver fatalities by nearly 30 percent in frontal crashes, considered the deadliest type of collision on U.S. roads.

Your Legal Rights and Remedies if an Airbag Didn’t Deploy in an Accident

When an airbag does not deploy, you might have several legal remedies depending on the reasons behind the non-deployment or delayed deployment. Here’s an overview of possible legal claims you can file:

  • Product liability claim. Manufacturers have an obligation to make products that are safe for consumers. If an investigation reveals that the airbag malfunctioned due to a defect, you may have grounds for a product liability claim. To prevail, you would typically need to show that the airbag was defective due to its design, manufacturing process, or defects in providing warnings.
  • Negligence claim. Suppose the airbag failed due to negligence, for example, by a repair shop or individual auto mechanic who did not service the airbag system correctly. In that case, you can file a negligence claim. This approach requires proving that the party had a duty to ensure the airbag functioned properly, breached that duty, and suffered an injury and damages from the breach.
  • Breach of warranty claim. Motor vehicles come with implied warranties that they will be fit for use. A warranty claim might be suitable if the airbag wasn’t deployed due to a breach of this warranty. A warranty can be either express or implied. Reviewing your vehicle’s warranty documents and consulting with an attorney for guidance is essential.

When filing a claim against the manufacturer, you will generally be required to prove the following elements:

  • The airbag did not deploy in an accident, but it should have deployed;
  • The airbag has defects;
  • You suffered an injury as a result of the airbag’s failure to deploy, and
  • You suffered actual damages as a result of your injuries.

In your claim, you can demand compensation for all your damages and losses, including medical expenses, property damage, loss of income, diminished earning capacity, pain and suffering, and others. A lawyer can help you properly assess your claim and determine what compensation you can recover. Your lawyer will also help you prove the elements of your claim, often involving hiring expert witnesses to testify about why an airbag didn’t deploy in an accident. Expert witnesses may include product designers, engineers, and accident reconstruction specialists.

However, remember that each type of claim is subject to the statute of limitations; the time limit you have to initiate legal action varies depending on the state. In Florida, for example, negligence-based injury claims have a two-year limit, product liability claims have a four-year limit, and breach of warranty claims are subject to a four-year statute of limitations under Fla. Stat. § 95.11.

Steps to Take if Your Airbag Didn’t Deploy

To sum up, we have prepared an actionable step-by-step guide for what to do if an airbag doesn’t deploy in your accident. Remember: Your actions in the moments and days following an accident can profoundly impact your ability to secure compensation later. That is why the following steps may be critical to the success of your future claim:

1. Gathering Evidence

Take photos at the scene if you can. Suppose you can’t ask others to do it for you. Photos should include wide views of the crash site, close-up images of the damaged vehicle, and the inside of the vehicle showing the intact airbags. Keep a record of any repairs and services done on the vehicle that might pertain to the airbag system.

2. Seeking Medical Attention

It is crucial to seek medical attention promptly after your accident, even if you do not think your injuries are serious. Medical records are important evidence of injuries resulting from the airbag’s failure to deploy. If you cannot show that you suffered injuries, you may be unable to recover compensation even if the airbag was, in fact, defective. Follow the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor and keep detailed records of all diagnoses, treatments, and expenses.

Attorney Hali Marsocci
Hali Marsocci, Car Accident Attorney

3. Contacting a Lawyer

Navigating the legal system can be complex in the aftermath of a car accident, especially when you are trying to focus on your treatment and healing. That is why you might consider hiring a personal injury lawyer who can handle the legal side of things. Your lawyer will assess the merits of a claim against the manufacturer or other liable parties, guide you through the claims process, and present your case to the insurance company, the liable party, and the judge or jury in the most convincing manner possible.