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Seat Belt Injury Symptoms and Treatment After a Car Accident

Driver buckling their seatbelt.

Seat belts have protected countless lives. Estimates by the National Safety Council put the number of lives saved at nearly 375,000 since 1975. That’s more than 7,600 accident survivors per year.

Unfortunately, some drivers and passengers continue to ride without these vital safety straps. Half of all occupants who died in motor vehicle crashes were unrestrained. Watch out for these five common myths about wearing seat belts and the truths that could save your life.

Seat belts are the best way to protect yourself from severe head injury and vehicle ejection. Of course, the more violent a wreck, the more likely you will suffer seat-belt-related injuries due to the forces transmitted at the moment of impact.

In this post, we’ll take a look at seat belt injuries, also known as seat belt syndrome, and what type of medical treatment is available for injured victims.

How Seat Belts Work in a Crash

Seat belts are the first and best line of defense in case of a wreck. They are an active safety system that works to keep the belted occupant as motionless as possible.

When a vehicle strikes an object or is hit by something, it alters the vehicle’s motion and speed. The change in momentum activates the seat belt’s locking mechanism.

There are two types of locking mechanisms in the seat belt system:

  • Car-activated system: A sudden stop causes a weighted pendulum to swing forward, forcing a metal bar to jam into a toothed gear attached to the belt spool. The jam stops the belt from unwinding and holds the occupant firmly in place.
  • Belt-activated system: A sudden jerk on the belt causes a lever attached to the belt spool to shift, activating a device that catches the toothed gear attached to the spool and stops its spinning motion.

The point of both systems is to tighten the belt at the moment of impact. Without a safety belt and shoulder strap, an occupant would be instantly tossed about the interior or thrown from the vehicle.

Types of Seat Belt Injuries

A seat belt injury is more likely to occur if there is significant velocity and energy involved in a crash. In a high-speed accident or rollover crash, a seat belt has to compensate for the impact’s force; it snaps against the person’s body to keep them from flying into the dashboard or out of the vehicle.

Seat belts are designed to transmit the energy of a crash to the clavicle, chest, and waist. If a strap rests on the neck or above the pelvis, the softer tissues of these areas are vulnerable to injury.

Seat Belt Sign

After an accident, you may have noticed discoloration, bruising, and abrasions across your body from where it made contact with the seat belt. This pattern is sometimes called “seat belt sign”. These are usually surface-level injuries. While you may feel some discomfort, the injuries will eventually heal on their own.

Seat Belt Syndrome

In severe car accidents, contact with the seat belt may cause seat belt syndrome. Seat belt syndrome refers to visceral internal injuries that affect the neck, torso, and abdominal cavity.

  • Cervical injuries: When the seat belt impacts the neck, it can cause damage to the arteries in the throat or the spinal cord.
  • Thoracic injuries: Chest injuries due to seat belt force include a broken sternum, rib fractures, pulmonary contusion (bruising of the lung), and in rare cases, myocardial contusion (bruising of the heart).
  • Abdominal injuries: Damage may involve lacerations to the liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, intestines, or bowels.

Internal Injury Symptoms

Signs that you may be suffering from internal seat belt injuries after an accident may include:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Feeling sick or unwell
  • Bloating
  • Midsection bruising
  • Stomach cramps
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea or abnormal bowel movements
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of motion
  • Paralysis

Seek treatment for any sign of internal injuries as soon as possible.

A damaged or ruptured organ may hemorrhage blood, causing it to pool in the abdominal cavity. A hemorrhage can cause serious infections or rapid blood loss, potentially leading to organ failure and death.

Treatment for Seat Belt Injuries

Should you experience abdominal pain, chest pain, or neck pain after a car accident, let the attending paramedics know immediately. Other information that may help determine the severity of your injuries is how fast you were going at the time of the crash and whether you can recall losing consciousness.

Paramedics or a treating doctor will want to assess your airway, breathing, and circulation. They will also want to take some blood samples to help detect the presence of any serious internal injuries. X-rays and CT scans of the head, chest, spine, and pelvis are typically performed on patients who have suffered trauma. If you were brought into the ER in an unconscious or unstable condition, the medical team will likely perform an ultrasound of the lungs, heart, and other visceral organs to assess the damage.

Treatment of internal injuries depends on the type of injury and severity. Internal and spinal injuries will be admitted to hospitals or trauma centers. Injuries to the soft tissues, sternum, or rib cage may not require hospitalization but will require home care and pain management regimens.

Compensation for Seat Belt Injuries

Seat belts are meant to protect us. But sometimes they can cause unintentional injuries, either because they are worn incorrectly or because the violence of the accident was so severe.

If you suffered a seat belt injury to the lower abdomen, chest, or spine, you are probably looking at significant medical treatment. Our law firm can help file a personal injury claim on your behalf and negotiate with the insurance company for maximum coverage of all medical costs and related bills.

Car accidents are emotionally overwhelming and physically exhausting events. You don’t have the energy to think about insurance and paperwork. Let us handle these things for you.

Contact Gary Martin Hays & Associates for a free review of your seat belt injury case. Our experienced and compassionate attorneys can get you quick answers to all of your legal questions.

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