Who Is to Blame When Airbags Fail to Deploy

Drivers trust airbags with their lives, literally. Airbags are a sought-after item and usually included as part of vehicle safety. Because airbags typically deploy within 30 milliseconds, statistics show they (frontal airbags) have saved over 50,000 lives in the U.S. alone.

However, when airbags do not deploy during an accident, it can lead to devastating and even fatal injuries to drivers and passengers. If airbags malfunction and inflate too fast or burst, they may cause various health issues, including hearing loss, blindness, burns, and abrasions.

This begs the question, who is to blame when airbags fail to deploy or malfunction? In most cases, the plaintiff will seek compensation from the driver who caused the accident despite an airbag’s failure to deploy.

However, if the plaintiff has a strong enough case, they may claim against the airbag manufacturer.

30 to 50 Millisecond Benchmark

Airbags are designed to deploy immediately after impact, within 30 to 50 milliseconds. However, no manufacturer can guarantee deployment.

Airbag deployment depends on the severity of the impact, whether the sensor works properly, and the positions of the vehicle occupants.

This is why it is unlikely for a slight fender bender to cause airbags to deploy. On the other hand, a high-speed collision may cause a deployment so fast that it causes additional injuries.

When Airbags Do Not Deploy

When airbags fail to deploy even after a serious crash, it may be because the sensor does not work or the relevant electrical components are defective.

There are ways to prevent this. For instance, if your airbags have already been deployed, replace them immediately. Disable the SRS and always adhere to the necessary maintenance requirements.

Whenever you drive anywhere, make sure everyone is seated properly. Do not let children roam free or lean in between the front seats.


Do not let anyone place objects, arms, and legs in the airbag deployment area while driving.

Doing this will not always prevent airbags from malfunctioning or not deploying, but it can help minimize the risk of injuries in an accident.

When Airbag Non-Deployment Leads to Legal Action

If you are involved in an accident and your car’s airbags do not deploy, you may have grounds for legal action. However, you must prove that the non-deployment caused injuries that would not have happened if the airbags had been deployed.

Your legal case will likely be based on product liability, which holds manufacturers and distributors responsible for injuries caused by defective products.

If any of the following applies in your case, you could claim product liability:

  • Airbag manufacturing defect: If there is a problem with the airbag or airbag system, such as a faulty sensor or malfunctioning inflation mechanism, it is a manufacturing defect. If the defect causes the airbags to stay put, resulting in injury or death, the manufacturer may be liable.
  • Airbag design defect: Even if the airbags are not defective, their design may be flawed. For instance, if an airbag is designed for a specific type of impact, it may not work in a different type of accident. So, if the design contributes to non-deployment, the manufacturer may be liable.
  • No warnings: All airbag systems must warn about limitations and risks. If there are no visible warnings, and an accident happens where the airbags do not deploy, the manufacturer could be liable for damages.

Establishing Liability

When you file a legal case, you (and your lawyer) must prove that your car’s airbag did not deploy because of a fault or malfunction and not because of anything you did.

You must show that you were injured in an accident because the airbag should have been deployed but did not. You must also show that an inherent flaw or mistake in the airbag’s design or production led to your injuries.

Moreover, you must prove that your injuries resulted in financial loss.

Looking Beyond Airbag Manufacturers

While airbag manufacturers are often liable for non-deployment, other parties may also share some blame.


For instance, a car manufacturer may neglect to integrate the airbag properly and ensure it works as it should. If improper installation or failure to follow compatibility guidelines leads to non-deployment, the car manufacturer could be liable.

If a maintenance provider neglects to check or address common airbag issues, they could also be partially liable for injuries sustained during an accident when the airbags do not deploy.

What Is Being Done to Ensure Airbags Are Safer?

Fortunately, manufacturers continue to work on making airbags safer, and the reduction in fatality rates in the U.S. shows this.

Side torso, side curtain, and rear-seat airbags provide further protection when they work properly.

Moreover, the NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) motivates automakers to include knee airbags in new cars. Front-center airbags help prevent serious injury in rollover accidents, and inflatable seatbelts help reduce severe neck, chest, and head injuries for rear-seat passengers.

These innovations paved the way for more revolutionary airbag technologies, like mounting airbags on car roofs and designing airbags that deploy with less force in less severe accidents.

Furthermore, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) plays a critical role in ensuring that cars and other vehicles are safer. This includes safer airbag systems.

If an airbag manufacturer encounters a defect in their product, the NHTSA can force them to recall the product. In most instances, the manufacturer would recall the product independently, but the NHTSA can order them to do so if they do not.

Filing and Winning a Legal Case

Airbag non-deployment cases are not easy to win. Still, an experienced lawyer can help you navigate and win your case if you have been injured by an airbag malfunction.

Your lawyer will help you work through the various legal steps of your case and investigate the exact cause of the accident. They will negotiate with the insurance companies on your behalf and represent you in court if no settlement is reached.

It is important not to just let it go when you have been injured by a defective airbag. Your case will help hold the manufacturer accountable for their negligence and help prevent others from having a similar experience.