Every parent wants the best for their child, and that includes car seats. While many parents spend hours researching the safest car seats for their little ones, I think many wouldn't even consider that the highly-rated car seat they purchased at the end of that search still might fail when it's needed most.
To make matters worse, authorities generally assume every single child injured in a car crash is because of drivers not buckling the children in or because drivers are incorrectly buckling the children into the vehicle. Because it is common to ignore or forget about a car seat as a manufactured product in a car crash, parents are potentially blamed for the death of their children and live with horrific guilt, when in many instances, it was their child's car seat that failed.
No parent wants to think about it, but as with any other product that enters the market, children's car seats can have defects.
This is, unfortunately, just a fact of existing in the world. Whether there is a design defect, a manufacturing defect, or an issue with the instructions for use, sometimes bad products are sold and cause injuries. When that happens, product liability law affords parents the tools to hold manufacturers accountable for their mistakes.
Obviously, Well-Built Car Seats Save Lives
There is no doubt that car seats save lives. Manufacturers specifically design car seats to keep children safe, and if they didn't work, there would be much higher reports of vehicle injuries and deaths each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the total passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2019 3% were children, and 40% of the children killed were unrestrained.
The question we want to know is, is that 40% estimation accurate?
"Since the 1960s, continuous efforts have been directed toward preventing deaths from motor vehicle crashes. As a result, there has been a substantial reduction not just in fatality rates, but in rates of serious nonfatal injuries associated with motor vehicle crashes, among people of all ages."A Change in the Leading Cause of Death among U.S. Children
Car seats are one of those efforts that helped reduced injuries and death in car crashes, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that properly securing children in a correct car seat, for a child's age and size, reduces serious and fatal injuries by up to 80%.
Of course, the benefits that come with using well-built, well-designed car seats only accrue when manufacturers live up to their end of the bargain. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.
Car Seat Defects Are More Common Than People Think
The concern is what if a car seat has a defect in its design, manufacture, or warning label? Any defect could reduce the effectiveness of a car seat and put a child at risk.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, in 2017, six car seat recalls affected 755,000 individual car seats. In addition, nonprofit organizations, that maintain up-to-date lists of all car seat recalls, report at least one or more recalls that affect car seats produced during 2018-2022.
The reported car seat defects range from car seat foam that could become a choking hazard to defective webbing (aka straps) that may not hold up in an accident. This means not every car seat defect harms children in car crashes, but those numbers are still alarming and show that car seat defects are a potential threat.
While we're bombarded with public service announcements alerting the public to the dangers of using car seats incorrectly, a parent must actively seek out information regarding car seat defects. As a result, most people don't even consider the possibility that a car seat failed to protect their child in a crash.
Investigators Rarely Look for Car Seat Defects
Let's consider an example of how this lack of awareness can have serious consequences.
Let's imagine a grandmother who just picked up her grandchild from kindergarten. Horrifically, she has a medical episode while driving, and her vehicle drifts off the road and into a rollover collision. When the police show up at the crash location, they find the child passenger seriously injured, unbuckled, out of their front-facing car seat, and they assume that grandma simply forgot to properly secure the child.
If this sounds oddly specific, it's because the attorneys at our firm have come across this fact pattern dozens of times over the years (and it's just one fact pattern).
In each instance, the police officer investigators were, unfortunately, unequipped to look for or identify product defects, so the resulting police reports all stated that the driver failed to buckle the child in correctly. To be clear, I'm not suggesting the police have the time or resources to be aware of every potential car seat defect. They do the best they can with the tools they have available to them. However, their best investigation, often isn't the best investigation. Families whose children are injured or killed in these accidents, deserve a second opinion from someone who knows what they're looking for.
Suppose the family of the child knows that grandma was always very careful when buckling the child's car seat. Because of this, they simply cannot believe that she failed to buckle in her grandchild. How can they find out what really happened? They need an expert to examine the vehicle and the car seat.
Car Seat Defect Attorneys Have the Resources to Discover the Truth
For parents who find themselves in this situation, the bad news is, even if you know that you need an expert to look into your crash, a simple internet search for a qualified accident reconstructionist isn't going to do the trick. And even if it did, they don't come cheap.
That's where a firm like Grossman Law Offices comes in. Our attorneys offer free consultations on all manner of product defects that result in serious injury or death. We're not in the business of leading people on wild goose chases. If we agree that something doesn't add up regarding your child's crash, we'll make sure that credible accident reconstructionists look into the matter for a defect. If, in our opinion, the police likely reached the correct conclusions, we'll tell you that, too. Either way, parents have nothing to lose.
Of course, the best-case scenario is that children's car seats are not defective and no cars ever crash, but the next best scenario is that if injuries occur, everyone is properly taken care of.