In February 2014, Graco Children’s Products recalled millions of defective car seats. It was the largest child seat recall in U.S. history, prompting a federal investigation. As a result of that investigation, Graco has agreed to pay $10 million in fines and efforts to improve safety.Product recall lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report on the results of this investigation and the consequent settlement.
The defective car seats had problems with the buckles, which could easily become stuck and trap children in their seats, preventing parents and caregivers from getting them out in an emergency. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation into the recall 10 months after it was announced, because of potential delays in announcing the recall.
Officials at NHTSA stated that children’s product manufacturers have an obligation to fix defects as quickly as possible and the federal investigation was meant to reinforce that responsibility. The settlement between Graco and the NHTSA includes a $3 million fine and $7 million dedicated to improving safety. Graco also must prove that it is meeting safety progress requirements over the next five years.
The company is expected to come up with a plan to meet specific safety goals, such as how to get more consumers to participate in recalls. Only about 40% of consumers with recalled car seats ever get them fixed. Graco admits that it did not warn the NHTSA about the defects in a timely manner.
The NHTSA stated it had been investigating the defective buckles since 2012, when complaints were first made to the company by consumers. Under federal law, car product companies have up to five business days to inform the NHTSA after first learning about safety-related problems.
Car seats are major factors in car safety and children injuries and deaths. Some common defects that may contribute to serious injuries in auto accidents include:
• Seat belts and safety straps, which we recently wrote about here.
• Booster seats, which offer no upper body support and can lead to ejections.
• Plastic shell fracturing or poor shell design.
• Defective latches or locking systems, as in the Graco car seats.
• Flammable fabrics.
• Insufficient head / neck supports.
• Improperly installed car seats.
There are many other design flaws and defects that can cause serious injury in children. When a car seat contributes to or directly causes an injury or death, the manufacturer may be held liable. Through a lawsuit, families can obtain compensation for the medical bills, future healthcare, funeral costs, and emotional distress caused by the accident.
A family in New Jersey recently settled their lawsuit against the state’s Department of Children and Families after an improperly-installed car seat caused a child’s permanent brain damage. The little girl was just two weeks old when the accident occurred, now suffering permanent mental and physical disabilities.
The infant was being transported by a state worker from her foster home to a meeting with her biological mother in 2009. The infant weighed only five pounds, and the state employee placed her in a car seat in an upright position instead of at a safe angle. During the drive the infant’s head moved into a dangerous position, causing positional asphyxiation and obstructing her airway, leading to unconsciousness and cardiac arrest.
The state ultimately agreed to a $4.25 million settlement after extensive negotiations with the girl’s adoptive family. The settlement amount is based on a life care plan, which estimated that her brain damage will mean a loss of future earnings of $4.2 million over the course of her life.
As a result, the state department has adopted new rules that require employees to undergo training on transportation skills, including how to safety install car seats. About half of all car seats in the U.S. are improperly installed. More information on children’s car safety can be found here, on SaferCar.gov.
Our team of product liability lawyers has 30 years of experience fighting on behalf of families impacted by defective and dangerous car parts. If you or someone close to you was seriously injured or killed by a recalled, faulty, or unsafe car part, contact our firm immediately for a free case review.