Three-point seatbelts, with an upper strap that originates above the shoulder, have been a federally mandated requirement in all newly manufactured U.S. vehicles since 2005, and there’s a good reason for that. Old-fashioned, two point seatbelts — or lap belts, as they’re more commonly known — often do more harm than good in the event of a motor vehicle accident. Even before the requirement was introduced, though, three-point seatbelt harnesses had long-since supplanted lap belts on most vehicle seats. For more than 20 years before the mandate, the three-point belt, in which an upper strap restrains the torso, had been commonplace. The exception to that was the center rear seat. In vehicles large enough to accommodate a third backseat passenger, lap belts persisted right up until the 2005 mandate. The center rear seat is where Chelsie Hill, then a 17-year-old high school senior, was sitting when the 1996 Toyota 4Runner vehicle in which she was riding crashed in 2010. Four other people were in the vehicle with her. Three were wearing three-point harnesses, and the fourth was wearing no seatbelt at all. Those people suffered relatively minor injuries. The 30 m.p.h. crash propelled Chelsie, who was buckled up, across her seat’s lap belt at her midsection. The force of the impact almost sliced her in two. The neurosurgeon who saw her in the emergency room that night believed she would die there. He said Chelsie’s body “was held together by skin,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Chelsie did not die. She is, however, paralyzed from the waist down. Perhaps for the rest of her life. A jury agreed with the obvious: that the lap belt was primarily responsible for the severity of Chelsie’s injuries in what was otherwise a relatively minor accident. They ordered Toyota, which was aware of the well-established dangers of lap belts, to pay Chelsie $12.5 million in damages. There are more than 250 million vehicles on U.S. roadways, according to an industry research group, and their average age is 11.4 years. More than 50 million of them are pre-1999 models. You don’t have to do all the math to correctly infer that there are still an awful lot of pre-2005 vehicles out there. Is one of them in your driveway? Or part of your or your child’s carpool? If you or a loved one has been injured by a lap belt during a motor vehicle accident, Scartelli Olszewski’s personal injury lawyers in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre can help you get the justice you deserve.
Rachel D. Olszewski, an attorney at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C., is a dedicated advocate for clients who have suffered unjust harm. Following the legacy of her esteemed family members, Rachel specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice, and criminal defense. She is actively involved in professional associations and serves on the board of the Luzerne County Bar Association Charitable Foundation. Rachel is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania state courts and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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