Looking for Answers: The Airbag Case that Took More than 5 Years to Resolve

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“You found black electrical tape covering the airbag warning light?”

That was the moment I knew that we had found the answers that we were looking for. Let me go back to the beginning. It was March of 2014. My client was headed northbound on 35th Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona when she suffered a seizure and lost control of her vehicle. My client’s vehicle swerved across multiple lanes of traffic narrowly missing others before eventually hitting a tree while going 45 MPH. The airbags in my client’s vehicle failed to deploy. My client suffered a serious traumatic brain injury as a result of the crash. My client’s husband called me and asked me if there was anything I could do to help them. I accepted representation on this airbag case and made these folks one promise and one promise only. I told them that I wouldn’t stop investigating this case until we found some answers. We simply wanted to know why the airbags didn’t deploy.

Jaburg Wilk

My first step was to hire an accident reconstructionist. These are the guys that essentially recreate what happened in an accident. Using science, they can give you valuable conclusions about the causes and events of an accident. I simply wanted to know if the airbags should have deployed. Check. Our accident recon did his calculations and agreed that the airbags should have deployed in this crash.

My next step was to hire an electrical engineer specializing in automotive cases or what is known as electrical failure analysis. This led me to the one of the smartest individuals that I have ever worked with. This expert game-planned and commissioned multiple inspections of the vehicle involved in our accident. He encouraged me to buy multiple test vehicles to run inspections on (we ended up buying four vehicles). He even flew to Detroit, Michigan to have sensitive components tested. His patience and understanding gave me the confidence to believe that we were heading in the right direction. The direction of finding the answers to the ultimate question of why the airbags didn’t deploy.

One year turned into two years. All the while our client was continuing to treat for her injuries. Her husband was tending to her full time as she had lost her job after being declared permanently disabled. We were forced into filing a lawsuit to preserve our client’s right to bring her claim. We named multiple parties, eventually amending the complaint five times over to add and remove parties and charges to the complaint.

Three years turned into four years. We had spent so much money investigating this airbag case that we could have paid off our client’s home. However, this became less about money and more about understanding the ‘why.’ Why did this happen? This wasn’t supposed to happen. Why didn’t the airbags deploy?

January 16, 2018. A vehicle inspection was scheduled at a nondescript office building in south Phoenix. Four attorneys and four experts made their way into a tiny room filled with microscopes and high definition cameras. The purpose of this inspection was to chronicle the removal of the screws from the back of the instrument cluster of the vehicle. An instrument cluster is part of your vehicles dashboard and includes the speedometer, odometer, gauges and warning lights. We had removed this instrument cluster from the vehicle involved in the crash during a prior inspection. The general consensus among the experts was that someone had removed the screws to access the back of the cluster. Once all the photographing and documenting was done, the screws were removed and the back of the cluster was removed.

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At this point we had access to the diodes or electrical elements that illuminated the various warnings to unsuspecting drivers. Of most interest was the airbag warning light. One of the experts hooked up a small tool to the airbag warning light diode to see if it would respond. The lights were off in the room so as to pick up any faint sign of light. There was a flicker. The expert adjusted his tool. Then the airbag warning light emitted a stream of light through the back of the instrument cluster. The experts curiously flipped it over so that we were all looking at the front of it and no light was visible. The hairs on the back of my neck shot up. The casing protecting the lights was delicately removed to preserve the condition of the evidence. Beneath the casing, wedged neatly into the canal that normally emitted warnings, rested a strip of black electrical tape. The assumptions quickly became reality. That driver was my client. Unknowingly, she drove head first into a tree going 45 MPH without an airbag. The airbag was never going to deploy. She never stood a chance.

Over a year and half after that fateful January inspection this case finally concluded. We had secured multiple seven-figure settlements on behalf of our client. Our lead litigation attorney and I traveled to our client’s house to let them know that the case was finally over. We sat in their dining room and we all cried. We cried because five years had disappeared between when I first met these wonderful people and when we finally shuffled the last piece of paper related to this airbag case. We cried because my client’s life will forever be different and no amount of money was going to change what happened to her. We cried because we had found our answers.

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