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What You Must Know About Seatbelt Syndrome

Written by Berkowitz

man buckling his seatbelt

Seatbelt syndrome describes the negative consequences of a seatbelt functioning as intended during a vehicle collision. Seatbelts are designed to keep drivers and passengers upright in their seats in the event of an accident. As Your Mechanic explains, “If worn properly, a seat belt will spread the stopping force across the seat belt wearer’s pelvis and rib cage. These areas of the torso are two of the more sturdy parts of the body, so directing the force in those areas works to minimize the effect of the crash.”

But, in a severe accident, the restraining force of the seatbelt can cause both external and internal injuries. These injuries are collectively referred to as seatbelt syndrome. Accident victims who suffer seatbelt syndrome can experience some or all of these injuries, and their injuries can vary both in terms of severity and potential outcomes.

External Injuries Associated with Seatbelt Syndrome

The most common external injuries associated with seatbelt syndrome are rashes, bruising, and burns. These injuries result from the compressing and abrasive forces of the seatbelt (or the clothing underneath the seatbelt) on the body. In addition, external injuries caused by seatbelts will often trace the shape of the seatbelt—appearing in a diagonal line across the chest and abdomen and a horizontal line across the waist.

Internal Injuries Associated with Seatbelt Syndrome

The compressing force of a seatbelt doing its job during a vehicle collision can cause various internal injuries. These injuries can be potentially serious, and they can even be life-threatening in a relatively small percentage of cases. Internal injuries associated with seatbelt syndrome include injuries to the:

  • Bladder and bowels
  • Colon
  • Heart
  • Intestines
  • Kidneys
  • Lungs
  • Stomach

In many cases, the symptoms of injuries associated with seatbelts will be generalized and not necessarily indicative of damage to a particular organ in the chest or abdomen. As a result, imaging (i.e., a CT scan, MRI, or X-ray) will be necessary to provide an accurate diagnosis. For example, some of the more common symptoms associated with seatbelt syndrome include:

  • Abdominal pain or chest pain
  • Pain between the hips
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty urinating or inability to go to the bathroom
  • Nausea and vomiting

However, some accident victims who suffer internal injuries associated with seatbelt syndrome will experience injury-specific symptoms as well. For example, blood in the urine is most commonly symptomatic of damage to the bladder, while coughing blood is usually symptomatic of a stomach injury. Due to the potential of severe complications, anyone who is experiencing any possible symptoms of seatbelt syndrome following a vehicle collision should seek medical attention promptly.

Financial and Non-Financial Costs of Seatbelt Syndrome

The financial and non-financial costs of seatbelt syndrome can be substantial. This is particularly true in cases involving multiple injuries, but even damage to a single internal organ can potentially have lifelong (if not life-threatening) effects. Some of the primary costs associated with seatbelt syndrome include:

Medical Bills and Related Expenses

The costs of diagnosing and treating injuries associated with seatbelt syndrome can far exceed what most individuals and families can afford to pay. Emergency room bills can easily climb into the tens of thousands of dollars, and the cost of lifetime care for internal injuries can be far higher. In addition, prescription medications, rehabilitation, therapy, and other related expenses add to the financial costs of recovery and symptom management.

Loss of Income

Many individuals who suffer from seatbelt syndrome will miss significant time from work as a result. In addition, certain injuries associated with seatbelt syndrome may prevent accident victims from ever returning to their jobs. Over a person’s lifetime, this can potentially mean millions of dollars in financial losses.

Pain and Suffering

External and internal injuries associated with seatbelt syndrome can cause significant pain, and in many cases, an accident victim will experience chronic pain. Seatbelt syndrome can cause other forms of suffering, including discomfort, aggravation, embarrassment, and inability to perform routine activities of daily living.

Other Financial and Non-Financial Costs

In addition to medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering, drivers and passengers who suffer from seatbelt syndrome can face other financial and non-financial costs as well. Some examples of possible additional costs include:

  • Home modifications (if you need accessibility accommodations due to requiring a wheelchair, colostomy bag, or other medical devices)
  • Housekeeping and home maintenance services (if you are no longer able to do these on your own)
  • Loss of companionship, consortium, and society (if you are no longer able to enjoy time with friends and family or to engage in marital relations with your spouse)
  • Loss of enjoyment of life (if you are no longer able to enjoy your hobbies and other activities of daily life due to the long-term impacts of seatbelt syndrome)

Seeking Compensation for Seatbelt Syndrome After a Collision

While the costs of seatbelt syndrome can be substantial, injured drivers and passengers will be entitled to compensation for these costs in many cases. The most common grounds for seeking financial compensation for seatbelt syndrome are:

  • Driver Negligence – When a negligent driver causes an accident, that driver is responsible for all of the financial and non-financial costs that victims incur. This includes the costs associated with seatbelt syndrome. Typically, seeking compensation for driver negligence involves filing an auto insurance claim, but there are other possibilities as well.
  • Seatbelt Defects – While seatbelt syndrome is often the result of a seatbelt functioning as intended, defects can cause or worsen the effects of seatbelt syndrome in some cases. If a seatbelt defect is to blame (or partially to blame) for a driver’s or passenger’s condition, the manufacturer may be liable for the driver’s or passenger’s losses.

Speak with a Car Accident Lawyer for Free

The car accident lawyers at Berkowitz Hanna are experienced in helping accident victims recover compensation for seatbelt syndrome and other traumatic injuries. If you have questions and would like to speak with a lawyer in confidence, you can call us or contact us online for a free consultation.