Airbag Injuries: fractured sternum, eye injuries, burns, and wrist injury

Andrew NeuwirthAsk Andy Podcast, Auto Accidents

Airbag caption on the car wheel

This episode discusses airbag injuries including a fractured sternum, chemical burns, vertebra fractures, collarbone fractures, and eye injuries.


Good morning and welcome to ask Andy. This is a daily podcast about personal injury practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’m Andrew Neuwirth. I’ve been away for a while during pandemic, not podcasting, so it’s good to be back in the saddle. I want to talk to you today about injuries from airbags. So I’ll talk on other days about, you know, when your airbags go off, when they don’t go off. But this is specifically about what happens when they do go off. So basically, you know, I’m not an expert in airbags, but I’ll tell you that there’s a little gas inflator. And the goal of the airbag is obviously to save your life and not have you go crashing into the steering wheel or into the dashboard or through the window. So assuming you’re wearing your seatbelt and the airbag inflates, you know, in a split second when you hit something, you know what happens? So you hit the seatbelt, then the airbag essentially hits you in the face and chest and it slows the impact pressure on you. But there’s still a lot of energy going into your body and that energy becomes dangerous. So a lot of the initial injury from an airbag is usually, you know, people complain a lot of times about chemical burns on one or both arms just from the chemical that’s used to inflate the airbag in such a rapid manner. So there’s gas released. It burns your arms. It’s not, you know, at the end of the world, but it’s upsetting. And you know, the gas, the chemical burns are painful.

So that’s usually the first thing that happens at accident scene as people are, you know, have these kind of lightly burned inside of their arms? The next thing is when the airbag goes off, oftentimes, you know, it’s meant to slow you down and it does. But that impact often causes a fractured sternum. So what’s the sternum? Sternum, you may know is like the little bone kind of in the middle of your chest. It’s like below your nipple line, but it’s right above the it’s kind of soft part of the top of your abdomen. So you know it’s where your ribs connect. It’s a very, very, very sensitive part of your body. But you know, at the same time that it’s very sensitive, there’s actually very little that can be done to help you with a fractured sternum. So it’s kind of, you know, the fractured sternum and the fractured pelvis are kind of known as some of the more painful injuries you can have. There’s very little treatment for them. You know, if you have open heart surgery, most of the time, they just let that fracture because they have to open up your sternum to get to your heart. Most of the time, they just let you heal on its own, but it’s very, very tender and very, very painful. So it’s not like a cast they can put on. If you have a displaced sternum fracture, you know, sometimes I think they will try and knit it together with wire. But I haven’t seen that happen from airbag injuries. So, you know you have this fractured sternum.

It’s very painful. It’s like six to eight weeks of just dealing with exhausting pain, but it does get better. So, you know, all other times people will compensate with their arms or just be told to kind of take four to six weeks off work when that happens. Other injuries I’ve seen are broken collarbones because the airbag on a smaller, particularly on a smaller woman, the airbag won’t hit you in the chest, it’ll hit them in the collarbone. So you collarbones or, you know, right below your neck and they actually break fairly easily, but they also heal fairly easily. And you know, if you have to have surgery on a broken collarbone, it’s a fairly routine surgery, but obviously not fun. You know, other injuries that result are sometimes, you know, in women with osteoporosis, particularly, you may see a spinal fracture in the thoracic. That’s the kind of the middle of the back. And usually they correspond with the level of the airbag and the sternum. So boom, the airbag goes off, hits you in the sternum. That pressure is still going backwards and you’re pushed into the back and you have weak kind of brittle bones to begin with and you end up with a fractured vertebrae or a fractured collarbone. What other injuries are there that, you know, stem from airbags other than those? So those are kind of the easy ones. The harder ones are sometimes people get glass from the, you know, surrounding accident part problem in the car like some part of glass.

Some breaks in the car and the airbag inflation forces it into your eye and you’ll get, you know, either cornea damage or real, you know, more serious eye damage that needs to be looked at immediately. But people don’t think about, Oh, I had this airbag explode, I’m having eye problems. They just are like, Wow, I’m a tremendous amount of pain from burns, ore from a fractured sternum or, you know, just being through this whole thing they don’t think about, Wow, there’s this other, you know, something’s wrong with my left eye vision. So that’s just something to be aware of. And, you know, usually what happens at the scene is, you know, bystanders come kind of get the airbag out of the way, pull you out of the car and then EMS or police or hopefully there to kind of get you checked out. So that’s pretty much like airbag injuries, but airbags going off tells you that you’ve got a serious crash. Oftentimes, their crashes where you know someone turns left in front of you, you’re proceeding through a green light with, you know, normal flow of traffic. All of a sudden, there’s a car in front of you and boom, you crash into it and your airbag goes off. There’s a whole other discussion for when airbags are supposed to go off, when they don’t go off this, that and the other thing. But the key kind of takeaway is that, you know, airbags going off are intended to save your life. There’s been a lot of litigation over Takata. I think it’s taking a airbags and the inflators there.

We’re either acting in a manner they weren’t designed for or they were designed in a negligent or destructive manner. That’s something we can talk about if you need help with that. But you know, there’s been a lot of litigation around airbags, but you know, in your basic car accident, you’re going to be injured by your airbag. But the intention is to save your life and not injure you. So, you know, that’s pretty much it on airbag injuries. It’s they’re pretty clear, they’re pretty immediate. And you know, they’re going to be there because of the accident and not because of anything you did or the other person did. It’s just the nature of that crash as a head on crash at high speed with the airbag deploying. And then for whatever reason, you know, it’s catching you in a manner that is going to cause some injury, you know, but it’s one of those things where we’re trying to save your life instead of just your sternum, which you can recover from. So this podcast is sponsored by my law firm, Neuwirth Law Office. I’m a King of Prussia personal injury lawyer that’s in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I’m happy to talk to you, people email and call all the time with just general questions, and you know, we’ll be having some guests in the near future on the podcast. All right, I hope all well. I hope you’re enjoying our bizarre life in a pandemic and see you next time I hold you people accountable.