The Newsome Melton Law Firm in Orlando, Florida, keeps an evidence warehouse where it stores vehicles involved in litigation cases its lawyers are currently working on. Among the crumpled wrecks recently stored there are a number of vehicles involved in accidents where a “seatback collapse” has led to catastrophic injuries.
Attorney Rich Newsome’s tone is somber as he stands in the large, industrial-style warehouse and describes the typical seatback collapse scenario. “You’re stopped at a red light or a stop sign. Suddenly you’re rear-ended by another vehicle. Instead of walking away, like you should, your seatback breaks, falls backwards and causes you to have a serious spinal cord injury.
“Even worse,” Newsome says, the crash causes “your head to go backwards and hit a child sitting in back of you.
“Although that should never happen, shockingly it happens all the time,” he adds.
These are the kinds of car crash injuries that should never happen given the seat construction technology that is available. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does have clear standards for seat safety, but manufacturers just barely clear the criteria for seat construction in lower-cost vehicles.
Newsome’s firm describes the NHTSA requirements as “absurdly low-minimum standard.”
The Newsome Melton Law Firm has expertise in the area of personal injury litigation related to serious vehicle injuries including tire tread separation, exploding airbags, and recently has taken on new cases related to the continuing problems with collapsing seatbacks.
These types of seats are usually installed in lower-end types of vehicles. Take away the upholstery, and the seat frame is revealed to be little more than a “lawn chair-style” construction, says Newsome.
Even if the car is rear-ended by another vehicle at a speed of only 20 or 35 miles per hour, the result can cause death or life-changing injuries like permanent paralysis as the result of crushing spinal cord injuries or a serious head injury.
Studies dating back to the 1960s have repeatedly pointed out the problems with poorly constructed seats. Manufacturers are well aware of the issues, but crash safety tests and safe-seat construction cost money that manufacturers won’t spend. They want to keep costs down in order to attract buyers to their vehicles.
Some carmakers, like Mercedes-Benz, put robust, safety-first seats in its vehicles.
But many others do not. “So, whenever there is a rear-end crash, those seats bend or break, and they fail, when they are supposed to protect,” says Newsome.
Newsome Melton has a lot of experience representing clients in seatback collapse cases. He tells clients up front about the difficulties handling the litigation.
These cases take a long time, and they are expensive because of the kinds of expert testimony needed to develop the litigation. Lawyers need to gather evidence from crash reconstruction experts, bio-mechanical engineers, as well as historians that can speak to evolution of government regulations. Then there are life-change management experts that need to speak to the type of care and medical treatment an injured person might need throughout the rest of his or her life. It all takes many hours of attorney time to move these cases forward.
Rich Newsome and his firm have brought many of these cases to successful conclusions and have recovered large sums in damages for clients.