Bizarre “exploding seat-belt” cases on the rise

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Bizarre “exploding seat-belt” cases on the rise

22nd September 2011

An expert in legal cases involving defective products has spoken of his amazement at the rising number of “exploding seat-belt” incidents he has dealt with recently.

Jerard Knott was speaking after he successfully settled a first claim against car manufacturer Peugeot, following the bizarre but terrifying ordeals his clients were each subjected to.

“The first I heard of this bizarre phenomenon was when a client contacted me to say she had been driving to work and her car seat belts had literally exploded,” said Jerard, of Fentons Solicitors LLP. “She had absolutely no idea what had happened. She said there was a loud bang inside her Peugeot 307cc as she was travelling along the road and it felt as if something had hit her hard in the chest. She instinctively braked and the car cut out and came to a dead stop.”

Jerard said the incident happened before rush hour and thankfully his client hadn’t gone too far from home. “She was only travelling at around 20 miles per hour because she was still on a residential street,” he said. “Understandably she was absolutely terrified. There was smoke in the car but she had absolutely no idea what had happened.”

The driver examined her car but could not see any visible damage or any reason why it would not restart. “She called a breakdown service and the mechanic said that some kind of an electrical fault had activated the front seat belt pre-tensioners and the roll bars in the back of the car.”

Pre-tensioners, which are mainly found in newer vehicles, are designed to pre-emptively tighten a seat belt in a collision to prevent the occupant from jerking forward. Like airbags, pre-tensioners are triggered by sensors in the car's body, and most use explosively expanding gas to drive a piston which retracts the belt. Likewise the car’s ‘roll-over hoops’ are only supposed to activate if the car is involved in an accident and rolls over.

“My client said there was no warning light, no alarm or anything, just an explosion,” said Jerard. “She was lucky she was only driving along a quiet residential street. If she’d have been on a busy motorway when it happened, I dread to think what the outcome might have been. As it was she suffered minor injuries to her chest and neck.”

When Jerard began investigating his client’s case, he discovered that exploding seat belts was a topic of conversation on many online forums, where consumers discuss problems they have encountered. “All of the reported incidents seemed to focus on the same make and model of car as my client’s – a Peugeot 307cc,” he said. “Through one of these forums I was contacted by a second and third victim who had experienced the very same bizarre problem. Unbelievably, a fourth victim has now come forward and it became apparent that this was clearly not just an isolated incident.”

Jerard said the vehicles affected all appeared to be in the same age bracket, between 2003 and 2005. But when his clients contacted Peugeot about the issue the French car giant refused to repair the vehicle or pay any repair costs – which ran into the thousands - as the vehicles in each case were no longer covered by warranty.

“My clients continued to suffer pain following the injuries they sustained in their respective incidents, so we launched proceedings against the manufacturer. Although their injuries were all relatively minor, the consequences of what could have happened if the cars had malfunctioned in a busy main road are too chilling to contemplate.”

Peugeot recently settled the first claim in the sum of £2,445 and agreed to pay the full cost of repairs to the client’s car.

“We are awaiting medical reports before negotiating settlements in two more cases, following Peugeot’s admission of liability, and I am currently investigating the circumstances of a fourth such incident,” he said.

Jerard alerted the UK Vehicle & Operator Services Agency (VOSA) to the situation after he was contacted by his first client, but no action was deemed necessary. In light of the number of cases being reported, Jerard now hopes VOSA will take another look at the issue.

“While exploding seat belts sound like something out of a film, it seems that amazingly a number of other drivers have encountered similar terrifying problems with their vehicles,” he said. “This problem needs to be addressed before anyone suffers more serious injuries when their seat belts explode.”

See what consumer watchdog specialist Which? has to say on the issue here.

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of accidents and injury caused by defective products.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.