Third Degree Burns From Heated Car Seats Prompts Lawsuit

A man from Missouri received third-degree burns back in 2018 from the heated seats in his Chevy Silverado pickup. He is now suing General Motors for failure to add a safety shutoff system for vehicles optioned with the heated seats. The man, paralyzed from the waist down, was driving from southern Missouri to Louisiana when the incident took place according to the Springfield News-Leader. Do heated car seats cause burns?

The victim did not feel the heated seats because of paralysis of lower limbs

In November 2018 the driver accidentally turned on the truck’s seat warmers during the trip. They heated up to dangerous heat levels. Being paralyzed he has no feelings in his legs. That’s why he didn’t feel the heat. 

Arriving home he discovered the problem. He reported to the local hospital where he was diagnosed with third-degree burns on his upper legs and on his lower body were second-degree burns too. Rehabilitation took months for the victim who experienced “immense physical pain and emotional suffering.” 

The lawsuit charges the manufacturer created a “defective and unreasonably dangerous” truck

1994 Toyota Previa interior
1994 Toyota Previa interior | SML Classic Cars

This lawsuit charges that the truck should have a safeguard to allow shutting off the seats if temperatures rise to higher levels than are tolerable for humans. The suit goes on to say that GM created a “defective and unreasonably dangerous” truck. 

It is far from the first time occupants of vehicles have been burned by heated car seats. But, everything from vehicle fires to other cases where someone has been burned has wound their way through the court system. Back in 2011, a widely-watched case outlined by the National Center for Biotechnology Information involved another paraplegic man receiving burns.

A similar injury happened with this Jeep Cherokee

He was driving just a half-hour in a Jeep Cherokee. During the trip, he slowly burned his hip on the heated seats. It was also determined that if temperatures rise to 120 degrees or even less it can cause burns on human skin. In those cases, the exposure has to be long enough to increase the odds of burning,

2020 Jeep Wrangler JPP20 interior seats
2020 Jeep Wrangler JPP20 interior seats | FCA

Heated car seats first appeared as an option on the 1966 Cadillac DeVille. The NCBI is responsible for discovering over 400 cases where seat heaters burned occupants. At least 30 of these cases involved some form of paralysis. In effect, they burned without realizing it until after the vehicle had reached its destination. Other cases were instances of malfunction.

Occupants with paralysis in lower limbs should avoid seat heaters

Especially if occupants have paralysis in their lower limbs they should avoid using heated car seats. Tests have shown that burns take at least eight hours to develop from the skin in contact with objects of at least 109-degrees. If the burn is in a weight-bearing area it is extremely difficult for the wound to heal. As with a foot or buttocks, the injured person shouldn’t walk or sit down to allow those wounds to heal.

Manufacturers over the years have added timers to the heating systems of seats. They have also kept the temperature at or below 105-degrees to avoid burning occupants. Also, indicator lights to remind occupants that heaters are on have been incorporated as an additional safety feature.