John R. Yannaccone, P.E., Principal Mechanical Engineer
Case Description: One afternoon, a husband and wife were on their way to an appointment in their van when they were involved in a multi-vehicle crash. Their van impacted the rear of another vehicle and was then contacted in the back by a third vehicle. The van sustained minimal damage and no airbags in the van were deployed. The driver was wearing the van’s three-point seatbelt and was not injured in the incident. The driver’s wife was seated in her wheelchair with the positioning lap belt around her waist. While the van had been retrofitted to make it wheelchair accessible with the addition of a lowered floor area, wheelchair ramp, wheelchair tiedown anchors and belts, the woman’s wheelchair was not secured to the vehicle. Rather, she liked to ride facing the passenger side of the vehicle, with her wheelchair against the driver side of the vehicle, behind her husband.
During the incident, she reported that her wheelchair moved forward and hit the back of the driver’s seat, then when the van was hit in the rear, her wheelchair moved rearward and hit the rear seat. At some point, her right leg moved off the right side of the wheelchair and was caught between the wheelchair and the rear van seat. When the van experienced another impact, the woman reported being thrown to the side and hit her head on the side of the van.
Steps Taken: Research into both the woman’s wheelchair and the van indicated the systems she had available should have been capable of providing her restraint and preventing her reported motions in the van during this incident. Information on her wheelchair indicated it had been tested in the forward-facing mode and should be used with both lap and shoulder belts fastened. The manual for the wheelchair also included a warning that the wheelchair must be used forward facing during transport in a vehicle. Additionally, the conversion of the van included installation of wheelchair tiedown anchorage as well as the necessary straps to secure the wheelchair in the van.
It was reported the woman’s preference was to not to allow her husband to secure wheelchair using the available tie downs and to be positioned side facing rather than forward facing as instructed in the manuals. She also preferred not to use anything more than a positioning lap belt to secure her to the wheelchair and vehicle. By electing not to use the available wheelchair tiedowns and occupant restraint system (WTORS), she was not secured in the vehicle and was free to move around the van’s interior. It is this motion which allowed her to strike various interior surfaces during this incident.
Final Findings: Had the wheelchair been properly secured to the vehicle using the wheelchair tiedowns, and the woman properly used the occupant restraints, she would not have made contact with the interior surfaces inside the van. The wheelchair tiedowns were in the center of the second row and would have positioned the wheelchair occupant away from interior surfaces. The low severity of the impacts to the vehicle indicate that it would not be expected a properly restrained occupant would have been injured. This was further supported by the restrained driver who did not have any injuries during this incident.
Outcome: The defendants were able to show the failure of the plaintiff to use the available wheelchair tiedown and occupant restraint system resulted in the motions permitting her to impact the van’s interior and sustain injury. This assisted them to reach a settlement before trial with the plaintiff.Categories: John R. Yannaccone | Mechanical Engineer | Occupant Restraint System | Wheelchair Tiedowns