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Air bags are made to help prevent injury and death in car crashes, but if they don’t work as expected, the results can be disastrous. That was the case for West Virginia resident LaDonna Stewart, who died in a car accident on May 3, 2011.

The accident occurred at the intersection of Cedar Hollow Road and WV 62 in West Columbia on a Tuesday afternoon. According to the policemen on the scene, driver Jacob Pillow, 18, of Racine, Ohio, was driving the truck that caused the four-car crash. Stewart was hit struck from behind, and because of an alleged seat belt and air bag defect, she was ejected from the vehicle and killed.

Stewart’s husband, Mason County resident Philip Stewart, filed a lawsuit on May 1, 2013, against Ford Motor Co., citing wrongful death.

Air Bag Problems Subject of Recalls

According to court documents, Stewart was wearing her seatbelt while driving a 2000 Ford Explorer XLT. She was a teacher at Meigs Primary School and the mother of two teenage children. The lawsuit alleges that because the seatbelt and air bag didn’t work as expected, she was ejected upon impact and pronounced dead at the scene. Her husband seeds more than $1.2 million in damages.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute reported in 2000 that between 1997 and 2000, and least 3,000,000 vehicles were recalled due to air bag related problems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lists the latest recalls announced by manufacturers, including several made as recently as September 25. These include over 370,000 Honda Odysseys (2003-2004) and Acura MDX vehicles (2003) and over 190,000 Suzuki vehicles (2006-2011).

Already this year, Honda and Toyota have launched air bag-related recalls covering 1.5 million vehicles. That follows a record year for similar recalls in 2012. Though the NHTSA states that air bags save lives, it remains a continuing issue whether they will deploy properly or even cause injuries on their own.

Defective Air Bags Cause Injuries

The Kansas City Star reported in 2007 that after analyzing a NHTSA database of all traffic fatalities over a six-year period, far more people had died from wrecks where airbags didn’t deploy than all those who died from injuries caused by air bags that fired too easily or too forcefully. They added at least 1,400 drivers and front-seat passengers died from 2001–2006 in front-impact crashes involving vehicles whose air bags never deployed. NHTSA officials disputed these findings.

The Star added that complaints filed with the NHTSA included more concerns about uninflated air bags than any other component.

Air bags have become more sophisticated over the past decade, but there are also more of them in cars today, making deployment even more complicated. Cases like Stewart’s, though tragic, help to force the issue to the forefront of safety concerns in all makes and models of cars and trucks.


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