Congressional Investigation Raises Concerns Over Dangerous Booster Seats
Booster seats are meant to keep children safe as they ride in the car, elevating them so that the adult-sized seatbelts in the backseat better fit their small bodies. But recent reports show that manufacturers may not actually be doing their part to ensure these seats are safe. On December 10th, a congressional subcommittee released a staff report with findings on the safety concerns of child booster seats as currently marketed in the United States. The congressional probe revealed some booster seats to be much more dangerous than previously anticipated, and that the manufacturing companies are deceptively marketing their dangerous booster seats as safe.
Congressman Raja Krishamsoorthi, the subcommittee chair, told ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom, that booster seat manufacturers “are more interested in leading parents to believe that their products are safe rather than ensuring that they actually are.” The committee’s report states that booster seat manufacturers have misled many parents into thinking it was safe to move their child from a five-point harness car seat to a booster seat much earlier in the child’s development than they actually should.
What Prompted the Investigation?
The congressional investigation began after ProPublica published a report on the danger of Evenflo booster seats aired in February of this year on CBS. The ProPublica report showed disturbing videos of crash test dummies being dangerously contorted and violently flung inside the vehicle during booster seat safety testing, greatly contrasting the passing safety grade granted to those dangerous booster seats by the manufacturer. The investigation found that the manufacturer had marketed their booster seats to be safe for smaller children, which majorly concerned safety experts.
This is in part due to murky lines as to what officially qualifies as “safe.” At the time of press, there are no federal standards for side-impact crash tests, leaving it up to the manufacturing companies to decide on whether or not they qualify as safe. While Congress directed regulators to facilitate a federal standard for side-impact testing in 2000 and several times since then, one has yet to be developed, leaving things up to the manufacturers.
Unfortunately, allowing manufacturers to define what is considered “safe” can lead to a lot of inconsistencies and allow for potentially unsafe products to enter the market, including these dangerous booster seats. Consumers rely on brands to accurately test their products for safety concerns and to accurately and publicly report findings; with safety standards left up to the manufacturers, there is a major lack of corporate accountability that can and has ultimately put many young children in danger.
What this specifically looks like may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. For Evenflo, side-impact testing was of minimal priority, with one employee even stating that while they do side-test their seats, they didn’t think that Evenflo seats “offer any type of side-impact protection.” ProPublica also noted in its report that in depositions, Evenflo employees explained that the only ways for one of their dangerous booster seats to officially “fail” a side-impact test was for the dummy to fall out of the seat or for the seat to break. The subcommittee stated that “[r]ather than directly test for risk of injury and death to children by monitoring stress and contortion of a child-sized crash test dummy, Evenflo gave itself a passing score every time,” failing to account for many dangerous potential outcomes that could result in serious neck and spinal cord injuries.
Dangerous Booster Seats
As early as 2012, a safety engineer at Evenflo named Eric Dahle recommended the company increase their minimum recommended weight for their booster seats from 30 pounds to 40 pounds to match Canadian regulations, citing government research and safety experts. Internal records show that the change was vetoed several times, with one marketing executive expressing exasperation at the safety engineer’s insistence. Wanting to outrank its most major competitor, Evenflo marketed their seat as safe for children under 40 pounds and promoted it as side-impact tested,” choosing to not disclose that the results of those side-impact tests actually found the seats to be dangerous for smaller occupants.
Months before a side-impact accident left then 5-year-old Jillian Brown paralyzed from the neck down in 2016, Evenflo changed the minimum height and weight requirements in their booster seats’ owners’ manuals from a 30-pound minimum to a 40-pound minimum, but they failed to inform consumers like the Brown family who had already bought and been using the booster seat. At the time of Jillian’s debilitating accident, she weighed 37 pounds. She suffered from “internal decapitation,” and now relies on the help of a ventilator to breathe. The Brown family recently took Evenflo to court, settling their case for an undisclosed amount.
Other Negligent Booster Seat Manufacturers
Because ProPublica was unable to access internal documents for brands other than Evenflo, they were not able to determine in their initial report whether other companies were also deceptively marketing dangerous booster seats as safe. The House subcommittee, however, was able to access that information to further the investigation.
In addition to Evenflo, the congressional probe that followed the ProPublica investigation looked into six other brands of booster seats. Those brands are Artsana (Chicco), Graco, Dorel, Baby Trend, Britax, and KidsEmbrace. They found that these companies were also relying on inadequate safety testing. Similar to Evenflo, these manufacturers were inventing tests that were “impossible to fail,” passing themselves, and then deceptively marketing their products as safe and side-impact tested.
Ultimately, this has put countless children –and their families—at major risk. The truth is that side-impact car accidents can be more dangerous to vehicle occupants compared to head-on collisions because the side of a vehicle provides less protection to occupants compared to the front of a vehicle or even the rear of a vehicle. ProPublica reported that side-impact collisions account for 25% of deaths of children under the age of fifteen, meaning that for children, this issue can be life or death. Congress is working to hold these manufacturers accountable and is pushing for the federal government to regulate side-impact safety standards. In a statement made to CBS, Congressman Krishnamoorthi said that “[p]arents are relying on companies to sell safe products and they’re relying on the federal government to regulate those products. And unfortunately, neither of those two things happened, and that is disgraceful.”
If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident involving an unsafe or defective product, contact our Product Liability Lawyers today to see how we can help. Call 713-224-9000, or fill out our contact form online for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.