For young children, car seats can be lifesavers. A recent recall of Graco car seats raises the question of whether car restraints can cause death.
In 2012, the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began a review of consumer complaints about certain model Graco car seats. Data gathered by the ODI, and Graco pursuant to request by NHTSA, includes the following points:
Buckles on certain Graco car seats are prone to sticking. Car seat users complain of difficulty removing a child from the restraint. In multiple cases, caregivers had to cut the harness straps to remove their child, or squeeze the child through the harness opening above the buckle. In other cases, parents called emergency responders to free their child from the restraint.
As noted by the ODI, Graco does not admit the defect, but blames spilled food for fouling the buckle. Despite this, Graco has offered free replacement buckles.
Under pressure from NHTSA, Graco recalled more than three million forward-facing car seats in February of this year and another 400,000 in March. Graco currently refuses to recall one million rear-facing infant restraints that use the same buckle.
On its website, Graco states, “there have been no reported injuries as a result of the harness buckles used on Graco car seats.” In California, a two-year old girl in a Graco restraint perished in a car fire after a vehicle accident. The ensuing lawsuit for wrongful death alleged the buckle on the Graco car seat made it extremely difficult to remove a child in case of emergency. Graco confidentially settled the case.
Graco is the subject of a regulatory investigation and has recalled some, but not all, of its potentially defective products from the market.