Knowledge base

Airbag Injury Compensation

Airbags were introduced to cars to make us safer in the event of an accident. But their use has also resulted in a category of injuries all of its own. Airbag recalls as a result of exploding airbags causing serious injuries – even death – have been a hot topic in the news, recently.

What can go wrong with airbags?

Airbag-related accidents

Airbags can cause injury whether they are faulty or operating as they were meant to.

A range of things can go wrong.

They can deploy late or when they are not supposed to, they can not deploy at all, only one might deploy and the other not.

Injured? Get expert advice now: Smith's are Queensland's only 100% risk-free injury compensation lawyers. Insist on our 'No Win. No Fee. No Catch' ® promise. Check your rights with no risk or obligations now and talk direct to our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith. Call 1800 266 801 OR  check if you can claim

Common airbag injuries

Airbags, when they open do so at great speed and with great force.

Some of the common injuries resulting from airbags include:

  • Facial trauma and injuries: caused by metal shards and shrapnel from airbags (particularly from defective airbag launching) bursting into a driver or passenger’s face.
  • Permanent incapacitation, disfigurement or scarring – particularly to the face.  Injuries of this type may include partial loss of vision, full blindness, the loss of an eye or severe facial damage.
  • Bodily injury or trauma caused by metal shards being lodged into a driver or passenger upon airbag explosion. This has, for example, killed a driver in the US as a result of a fragment puncturing her carotid artery.
  • Broken bones – broken ribs are quite common, as a result of the airbag’s impact.
  • Whiplash, neck and spine and brain trauma.
  • Burns or abrasions to the face and body – in particular, arms.
  • Respiratory-related conditions such as asthma can trigger as a result of the chemicals released when an airbag inflates.

What if I sustain an airbag-related injury?

Whether you may be able to claim compensation for an injury of this type depends on multiple factors, including the circumstances of the injury, whether there was another vehicle / driver involved in a car accident, whether a driver was at fault, and whether the airbag itself was faulty or in good working condition prior to the incident.

Crutches for airbag-related injury recovery

Australia’s compulsory Takata airbag recall

You may have seen or heard about the Takata airbag recall in the news.

The statistics are significant. According to Takata’s website, there have been 24 reported deaths and 300 reported injuries worldwide from faulty airbags.

In Australia, the toll so far is one death and one serious injury in relation to Takata faulty airbags. Takata is responsible for the supply of a significant proportion of airbags in Australia’s vehicles.

The Australian government has made it compulsory for all faulty Takata airbags to be replaced by 31 December 2020.

This affects some 2.7 million vehicles. The recall is being rolled out in 4 stages, with the highest-risk – known as ‘alpha’ – airbags on the top of the priority list.

Australia’s vehicle suppliers – obligations

As part of this recall, vehicle suppliers must comply with a strict schedule for replacement of faulty airbags.

All faulty airbags must be replaced by December 2020.  Additionally, suppliers have an ongoing obligation to replace faulty airbags after 2020.

They can cop serious penalties if they do not comply with this.

Can I claim compensation if I am injured by a faulty airbag?

Where you, the driver, are at fault:

Vehicle suppliers obligations

In this case, if

  • You are injured as a result of a faulty airbag; and
  • Your injury is worse than it would have been if the airbag was not faulty, you might be able to claim against the airbag supplier, or – if the airbag has been altered or replaced – the person carrying out those services.

Claims made for faulty goods – particularly where there is a ‘safety defect’ - may be made under the Australian Consumer Law. This is a different scheme to compensation laws in Queensland. Different tests apply – for example, in relation to the severity of the injury, and the amount of compensation which may be awarded.

Claims like this are complicated. A claim in negligence may also apply on the basis that manufacturers owe a duty of care to consumers.

Other examples of claims include if a supplier changes the product information through packaging or warranties. This would be a contractual claim.  It could also apply to the contract of sale.

However, it can be difficult to claim against suppliers, manufacturers or service-providers.  

For example, if manufacturers have given warnings to drivers about the risks of driving with a faulty airbag, it can be hard to show that they were careless or negligent.  

Claims are complicated because of 3 main factors:

  • Multiple parties are involved: manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, resellers, insurers, third parties.
  • Proving fault and proving that injuries are caused by that party’s conduct (or, for product liability, defective product with injuries caused by that product).
  • Lengthy processes because one party (for example a retailer) is likely to counter-claim against a supplier.

Where another driver is at fault

In this scenario, it is likely that an ordinary claim as against the compulsory third party insurer would be made.

The insurer would be likely to go straight to the manufacturer or supplier, though, to press the claim against them.

Injured? Get expert advice now: Smith's are Queensland's only 100% risk-free injury compensation lawyers. Insist on our 'No Win. No Fee. No Catch' ® promise. Check your rights with no risk or obligations now and talk direct to our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith. Call 1800 266 801 OR  check if you can claim

What if my airbag was supposed to be replaced, and I didn’t have it done?

In this case, your insurer may refuse to cover you. Similarly, where another party is involved, the compulsory third party insurer may very well refuse to compensate you for any injuries.

Car without replacement airbag

Take the government’s actions as a sign of the seriousness of this – people with ‘alpha’ category Takata airbags risk having their registration suspended if they do not arrange for the airbags to be replaced. And if you aren’t registered, you aren’t covered.

What if my passenger is injured by a faulty airbag?

Again, if the supplier or manufacturer have warned you of a faulty airbag that you have not had fixed or replaced, you might have a hard time claiming from your insurer.

What if I’m injured from an airbag operating as it was supposed to?

When an airbag inflates as a result of an impact or crash, it can still cause some serious damage.

Sometimes airbag deployment can happen, even as a result of a minor impact – such as bumping another vehicle at low speed in a car park.

Whether you might have a claim in negligence, contract, consumer law or common law will depend on all the circumstances.

For example, did the airbag go off because of a safety defect?  

Did it go off because it was not installed or replaced correctly?

Did the airbag deploy because it was so poorly manufactured that no one could reasonably expect it to go off in that situation?

What about leg injuries from airbags?

The most common scenario is this: a passenger is riding with their feet on the dashboard.

Broken legs are a common airbag injury

If the airbag goes off because of an impact or unexpected deployment, this can result in the feet and legs being pushed at great force back against the person.  Broken legs, and severe injuries to other parts of the body (the face, for example) can occur.


It’s a typical Aussie scene – a hot summer’s day, Pete is driving his wife Jen up the highway to head to the beach. The windows are down, the tunes are up and Jen is relaxed, sitting back, with her legs resting up on the dashboard.
Suddenly, another car overtakes them and brakes too quickly. The impact causes both airbags to go off. Jen’s legs are slammed against her face and body, resulting in a broken leg and severe facial trauma.
The same considerations as all other accidents and injuries involving airbags apply, here. However, especially in the case of a negligence claim, Jen’s contributory negligence – that is, her own carelessness sitting in a dangerous position – is likely to be a significant factor against any claims she might have.  This is especially the case if the airbag has simply deployed in circumstances where it was intended.
Seatbelts and airbags are intended to operate with the passenger or driver seated in a normal position.

What do I do if I’ve had an accident involving an airbag?

Obviously safety is the first priority.

If all parties are safe, however, it is important to try and remember to preserve evidence of the airbag / pieces at the accident. Even though you'll likely be shaken by the episode, it's important to know what to do in the moment. Sometimes insurers wish to take possession of a vehicle, so you should seek legal advice before allowing this to happen.

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Last update on:
June 1, 2021
Disclaimer: This information is designed for general information in relation to Queensland compensation law. It does not constitute legal advice. We strongly recommend you seek legal advice in regards to your specific situation. For expert advice call 1800 266 801 or chat via live chat to arrange free initial advice with our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.

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