Seat Back Failure Tragedies – Safety Delayed for Decades

Seat Back Failure Tragedies – Safety Delayed for Decades

November, 2016

Dear Care for Crash Victims Community Members:

An excellent article in Forbes shows how auto companies have stalled government safety actions for decades – especially during both the Bush and Obama administrations – after the dangers of seat-back failures were made clear.

One illuminating factor in this reporting is that it goes beyond statistics of the deaths, but also addresses the suffering of tragic injuries.  “Thomas Comella and Victoria Thomas have suffered so much already it would be best for them not to know that three legislators are now telling federal regulators that the seat backs in American vehicles are too weak and can easily collapse in rear-impact crashes.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Diana Degette of Colorado say the failure of seat backs can cause the driver or front-seat passenger to be flung into the back seat, suffering serious injuries or killing a child seated back there.

The Senators say the federal safety standard – adopted in 1972 – must be upgraded.

Comella and Thomas have known that for almost two decades.

It was how their worlds ended.

Comella, 50, was driving a minivan outside of Cleveland in 1999 when traffic slowed. His vehicle was hit from behind. He remembers the impact being slight, similar to getting bumped by one of those Dodgem bumper cars at an amusement park.

But his seat back broke. The seat belt no longer held him because seat belts are designed to keep occupants from being thrown forward. When he hit the back seat he suffered a spinal injury that left him blind and paralyzed except for the very limited use of his arms.”  

Thomas was 19 in 1997 when her car slid backwards into a pole, striking with a force estimated at about 11 miles per hour. The seat back broke. She suffered a spinal injury that paralyzed her legs.

I talked to Comella and Thomas and wrote about seat-back failures 15 years ago when I was covering automotive safety for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. I’ll post the full story below; but the short version is that way back then seat-back failure was a well-known issue and safety researchers said there were solutions.” See

For more on seat-back failures see



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