What is Seat Belt Syndrome?

buckling seat belt in car

Seat belts unequivocally save lives. According to research by the National Safety Council, 50 percent of all accident-related deaths may have been prevented simply by wearing a seat belt. While safety belts are essential, they are not without inherent hazards, especially in a bad crash. Seat Belt Syndrome is a collection of injuries that can be sustained as a consequence of seat belts during a car accident. These injuries can range from minor to severe, and they may appear immediately or have a delayed onset. Read our article to learn more about Seat Belt Syndrome and when to speak to an attorney regarding your injuries.

Types of Injuries in Seat Belt Syndrome

Seat belts save the lives of the driver and passenger by preventing them from being ejected from the vehicle or being thrown into the body or roof of the car. They accomplish this by restraining the body across the lower abdomen and chest. They are designed to tighten when the vehicle comes to a sudden stop, which is characteristic in a crash.  

The nature of seat belts means they may inadvertently cause injuries while performing exactly as they should. The most common injuries are usually mild, like bruising and abrasions. In other cases, however, injuries can be severe, including:

  • Damage to internal organs, especially the intestines
  • Fractures of the ribs
  • Spinal injuries

Can Seat Belt Injuries Be Delayed?

Yes. Symptoms of Seat Belt Syndrome do not always present right away. This is especially true of bowel-related trauma, which can cause serious complications. 

What is the Seat Belt Sign?

When a doctor evaluates a car accident victim, they will often use the “seat belt sign” as an indication of potential internal trauma. The seat belt sign is quite literal: the doctor will look for bruising and abrasions that follow the pattern of a seat belt on the skin. 

Only around 20 percent of patients will have a seat belt sign, but if they do, they are four times more likely to have a thoracic (chest and upper back) injury, and eight times more likely to have a bowel injury. 

Complications of Seat Belt Syndrome

In many cases, Seat Belt Syndrome will resolve on its own with self-care. Treatment for bruising and abrasions may consist of over the counter pain medications, ice, heat, and rest. In more complicated cases, however, extended medical treatment may be necessary.

Complications from Seat Belt Syndrome are often related to delayed diagnosis of bowel injuries. This can lead to a condition known as peritonitis, which is an infection of the abdominal cavity. It is considered a medical emergency and must be treated right away to prevent sepsis, which is a life-threatening condition that can cause organs to begin to shut down. 

Symptoms of peritonitis include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Difficulty having a bowel movement
  • Fever
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing

Studies have found that peritonitis can present as late as three days after an accident. Even if you do not have symptoms right away, it is important to seek medical evaluation following a bad crash. 

Can You Sue for Seat Belt Syndrome?

Yes, if your seat belt injuries occurred as a result of someone else’s negligence, you can and should take legal action.  A personal injury lawyer will help you seek a settlement to cover your medical treatment, both past and future, as well as other damages related to your accident. 

Severe seat belt injuries are rare, but they can be serious, and you deserve financial compensation. In Colorado, the skilled and compassionate attorneys at The Roth Group are here to help. If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, call or go online today to schedule a free consultation.