What are the Lawsuits Claiming?
On June 17, 2020, a California lawsuit was added to the newly-consolidated Massachusetts multidistrict (MDL) case claiming that Evenflo Co. Inc. falsely marketed their car seats as safe for children under 40 pounds. The complaint states that the car seats allegedly placed children in “grave danger” if a crash occurs.
The transferred California lawsuit ended up on the docket of U.S. District Judge Denise J. Casper on the same day that the judge’s order governing the MDL was publicly filed. The proposed class action complaint was first filed in the Eastern District of California in March 2020 after Evenflo claimed for years that its “Big Kid” booster seat has been tested and is safe for children weighing anywhere between 30 to 110 pounds. However, there are no government-approved tests for car seats intended for children weighing under 40 pounds. As a result of the lack of government-approved testing, Evenflo created its own test, gave itself a passing grade, and then marked the booster seat as “side-impact tested.” Evenflo has sold more than 18 million “Big Kid” booster seats and is a subsidiary of China-based Goodbaby International Holdings Ltd.
The complaint says that: “Contrary to Evenflo’s marketing and safety representations, it has recently been revealed that defendant has known for a significant period of time that the booster seat is not safe for children lighter than 40 pounds, and that defendant’s own testing confirmed that a child seated in the booster seat could be in grave danger in the event of a side-impact collision.”
Regarding Evenflo’s alleged misrepresentative marketing practices, the complaint says: “Sadly, the real-world repercussions of defendant’s dangerous deception and misrepresentations have been established by the unforgivable and irreversible aftermath of car accidents involving children weighing less than 40 pounds who were seated in defendant’s booster seat during the time of their accidents.”
One of the leading litigations against Evenflo focuses on a case where a 5-year-old child who weighed under 37 pounds suffered from paralysis after riding in a “Big Kid” booster seat with a backrest during a side crash. The key issue in the case is whether or not the “Big Kid” booster seat should be used by children between 30 to 40 pounds.
More Information on the Safety Concerns with the “Big Kid” Booster Seats
In February 2020, the nonprofit investigative journalism newsroom, ProPublica, released a report on the sales of Evenflo’s “Big Kid” booster seats which claimed they are potentially unsafe in certain types of crashes.
ProPublica reported that in February 2012 the safety engineer at Evenflo, Eric Dahle,—.—wanted the company to make a major change to its instructions for parents regarding the safety of the booster seats. Dahle recommended that Evenflo stop selling booster seats for children who weigh less than 40 pounds. and cited government research in an email to high-ranking executives to argue that children weighing less than 40 pounds would be safer in car seats that use harnesses to hold their bodies in place. However, internal emails indicate that a marketing executive “vetoed” Dahle’s safety recommendations.
Evenflo’s website tells parents that their booster seats are “safe and side-impacted tested” and that those tests are “rigorous” and simulate realistic side-impact crashes.
However, ProPublica obtained side-impact crash test videos from Evenflo that show child-size dummies buckled into Evenflo “Big Kid” booster seats remaining in the seat but being tossed sideways in a manner that the report says can lead to serious neck and head injuries, or even death.
Evenflo’s top booster seat engineer confirmed these dangers in a deposition, explaining that if real children moved the way the child-sized dummies did, children could suffer catastrophic head, neck, and spinal injuries.
Evenflo gave its “Big Kid” booster seats passing grades on the crash tests that were created by the company. In fact, the passing bar for the company’s test is so low that the only way to fail Evenflo’s crash test is if the child-sized dummy ended up on the floor or the booster itself broke into pieces.
Evenflo responded to ProPublica’s report: “That singular focus is not a luxury that a car seat manufacturer has. After all, our consumers don’t know at the time of purchase what kind of crash they may, unfortunately, become involved in while their child is in the vehicle. As a responsible car seat manufacturer, consequently, we must design to protect a child in a multitude of reasonably foreseeable accident types. Indeed, the company receives praise from consumers in all kinds of accidents with children of varied sizes, including those under 40 pounds—frontals, near-side-impacts, far-side impacts, rollovers, and rear-side impacts.”
Until 2007, Evenflo marked the “Big Kid” booster seat as safe for kids as young as one as long as they weighed 30 pounds or more. However, in 2016, Evenflo did change the minimum height and weight requirements in the owner’s manual to 40 pounds. However, Evenflo did not notify customers who had already purchased “Big Kid” booster seats because the company claimed that there was no safety impact related to the change.
What are Governments’ and Regulators’ Responses?
In February 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives launched a probe to investigate Evenflo over concerns that it used misleading marketing tactics to sell its “Big Kid” booster seat and found that children could be at risk.
However, there are currently not any federal regulations for side-impact crash tests in the United States. In 2000, Congress enacted a law requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to implement regulations to improve the safety of car seats and boosters in order to minimize children’s head injuries in side-impact collisions. However, the law has currently not gone into effect. As a result, car seat manufacturers design their own safety tests and decide the criteria that must be met in order to pass the tests.
In contrast, Canadian regulations require a 40-pound minimum for booster seats. Additionally, for years the Academy of Pediatrics has recommended kids stay in a car seat with harness restraints for as long as possible and should not switch to a booster seat until they weigh at least 40 pounds.
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