Danielle Underwood, 16, of Rialto died in an auto accident Sept. 20 after her 1984 Jeep Wrangler collided with another vehicle. According to this news report, the Wrangler collided with a 2000 Mazda truck near the Fifth Street off-ramp on the 215 Freeway. Danielle, who was in the front passenger seat of the Jeep was ejected.
Two others suffered injuries and were transported to area hospitals. The Jeep reportedly hit the guardrail following its collision with the Mazda. California Highway Patrol officials are still investigating the collision.
I offer my deepest condolences to the family of Danielle Underwood for their tragic loss.
It’s too early to tell what happened in this accident and why Danielle was ejected from the vehicle. The news report does not state that Danielle was not wearing her seatbelt. If I were representing the family of Danielle Underwood, I would certainly examine the Jeep Wrangler for seatbelt defects or seatbelt failure.
They are many ways a seatbelt system can fail. Many of the “side release” belts are prone to false latching and many “end release belts” are prone to unlatching during auto accidents. Our firm has seen many cases of seatbelt failure involving seatbelt mounts, buckles, webbing and grabbers. We have even uncovered internal auto manufacturer documents, which show that those auto makers had knowledge of these failures, but did nothing about them.
Many traffic investigators will automatically assume that the vehicle occupant was not buckled up if the person is ejected from the vehicle. An expert looking for signs of seatbelt use will be able to correct or confirm these assumptions. The family of Danielle Underwood would be well advised to retain the services of a reputed Southern California seatbelt defect attorney and not take the investigators’ word for it.
The attorney should also have the body of the ejected person examined for evidence of seatbelt bruising and marking. The webbing also needs to be microscopically tested for marks, blood stains or other indicators that would prove that the seatbelt was in use at the time of the accident.