Child Restraint Systems, Part II

By Kevin T. Veugeler

Last month's article dealt with the importance of utilizing a properly fitted child restraint system. That article highlighted the unfortunate fact that federal standards in this area are inadequate, and there is no requirement for comprehensive testing prior to the release of child restraint systems to the consumer market. As a result, defective car seats slip through the system and are sold in the United States.

One tragic result of these poor standards occurred in Montana in 2000. Four month old Tyler Malcom died in a highway accident when his Evenflo "On My Way" car seat broke loose from the seatbelt and flew out of the vehicle with him still strapped inside. A post accident inspection revealed that hooks that secured the seat to the seatbelt cracked off. Evenflo manufactures its car seats in the United States and China.

After a lawsuit was filed, Tyler's parents discovered that in Evenflo's own tests, prior to the accident, the seatbelt hooks cracked allowing the seat to fly off the testing bench with the testing dummy still strapped in. In fact, the company had videotaped the dramatic testing failures. However, the manufacturer never notified the government of the test failures, nor was it required to under the existing law.

A few weeks ago, a Montana jury found that Evenflo knowingly produced and sold a defective child restraint system, even though the company claimed it met all federal standards. The jury awarded the family over $10 million. The verdict included $3.7 million in punitive damages, meant to punish Evenflo for its willful and wanton misconduct in allowing its car seats to be distributed after it knew of their dangerous defect.

Evenflo continues to deny there was any defect in its car seats, and released an announcement that it intends to appeal the jury's decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

"ON MY WAY" NOT THE ONLY EVENFLO CAR SEAT WITH DEFECTS

Meanwhile, as Evenflo denies defects in its "On My Way" car seats, it admits they exist in other car seats. In May, Evenflo in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a recall of 450,000 Evenflo "Embrace" car seat/carriers. The defect in the "Embrace" occurs when used in carrier position. The handle can unexpectedly release, causing an infant to rotate forward and fall. Prior to the recall, Evenflo had received 679 complaints. These complaints included 160 injuries to children, including one child who sustained a fractured skull.

Likewise, in 2001 Evenflo had a similar handle detachment problem with its "Joyride" car seat/carrier. This prompted a recall of 3.4 million of the combination seats/carriers. One Consumer Reports spokesman criticized the decision to make multi-use products, stating that design standards have not yet been established.

CONSUMERS MUST KEEP TRACK OF RECALLS

As our news becomes inundated with recall after recall of children's products, including everyday items like toys and car seats,it becomes more and more important for consumers themselves to keep track of product recalls. Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission keep information related to recalls on their websites. More importantly, recalls are preceded by consumer complaints. If you experience problems with a product, it is important to report the problem to the manufacturer. If you or one of your children is injured because of a defect in a product, it is important to contact a product liability attorney as soon as possible.