What is going on here? Your client has been hurt by a design defect that usually leaves no trace. The defect is called inertial buckle release. During the crash, the back of the buckle struck your client's hip or the side of the seat, releasing the tongue and leaving your client unrestrained.
Inertial buckle release is more apt to occur in higher speed collisions that frequently kill people or leave them with severe brain injuries. In many cases, the victims are driving alone and police find them unbelted, leaving the family to wonder why their loved one, who always wore a seat belt, decided not to wear it on that particular trip.(1)
No one knows how many incidents of inertial buckle release have occurred, but this insidious defect has killed and maimed for years. Although these cases are difficult to win, your client can prevail if you prepare carefully.
Inertial buckle release occurs when a properly latched buckle is struck sharply on the side opposite the button, as might happen when an accident victim's hip bone hits the back of the buckle. This blow creates inertial forces inside the buckle that release the latch and allow the tongue to pop out of the buckle as though the push button has been depressed.
Most side- and end-release buckles can open inertially.(2) The automobile industry, however, asserts that inertial release cannot occur in a real accident. Because the RCF 67-also known as the Fisher or Type I-side-release buckle is the most common, this article will focus on it. RCF 67 has been used in Ford and General Motors vehicles since about 1969.
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