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Airbag proved deadly in mild crash

Ghosted view shows the layout ofairbags in a Vauxhall Insignia.

Ghosted view shows the layout ofairbags in a Vauxhall Insignia.

Published May 29, 2012


A UK husband involved in a minor car crash died months later after breathing in the ‘noxious’ contents of an airbag.

Ronald Smith’s wife June was relieved when he arrived home apparently uninjured following the six-car shunt, an inquest heard.

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However he told her the airbag had been torn open by a shard of glass as it inflated and he had inhaled the gases it contained along with a large amount of white powder.

Smith, a 59-year-old marine engineer and grandfather from Marsden, South Shields, who had been extremely fit and active, began to suffer chest and breathing problems.

After several weeks he went to hospital where he was placed on a ventilator.

Three weeks later he died of bronchial pneumonia.

South Tyneside coroner Terence Carney recorded a misadventure verdict. He said: “This man died as a result of the car crash and more pointedly because of the explosion of his airbag, and exposure to noxious substances.”

Outside court Smith’s son, Lee, 36, said: “It’s the verdict I was looking for. Ever since it happened we wanted an investigation to see if anybody was to blame and I’m happy with what the coroner has said.”

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It is believed to be the first time a driver has died after inhaling the contents of an airbag, and Smith’s widow expressed her shock and devastation that something designed to save life had actually taken it.

“I knew from the very beginning that it was the airbag.”

The accident that led to Smith’s death happened in November 2010 as he was returning home through Hartlepool.

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He drove into the car in front at the same time that another went into the back of his Vauxhall (aka Opel) Insignia. His head was flung forward by the impact and he inhaled the contents of the airbag, the inquest at South Shields was told.

“He told me about the white powder straight away,” said Mrs Smith. “He said there was so much of it he couldn’t see.

“I just thought that the white powder had got into his lungs. I thought his body would get rid of it by itself - I didn’t think it would be permanent.

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“Not long after that I noticed that he wasn’t right, he would become breathless walking up the drive.

“Ronnie has never smoked so that was very worrying.”

He started to cough a lot as well. It wasn’t normal because he wasn’t like that, he never got colds.

“He had always been so healthy and was extremely fit. I knew from the beginning that it was the air bag but other people would look at me as if to say, ‘Don’t be silly’.”

On 5 January the couple went to South Tyneside District Hospital and Smith was immediately given oxygen and admitted.

“He could barely move,” added his widow. “It was a very cold winter, and he was really struggling. We used to walk everywhere and he was always out every night with the dog, but he got so bad that he couldn’t even walk a few steps without my help.”

Forensic pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton told the inquest that Mr Smith’s lungs were both extremely “heavy and firm”.

The AA said it had no record of similar deaths. A spokesman for Vauxhall said the company planned to investigate the matter but did not wish to comment at this stage. - Daily Mail

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