Baby car seat maker Evenflo is in the news after the release of a disturbing video showing the company’s booster seat safety tests. The controversy comes after families whose children were injured in Evenflo booster seats sued the company. Some of the children now suffer paralysis and other injuries.
Get the latest news update on the lawsuit here, or continue reading for the full story.
The video, part of a ProPublica investigative report, reveals footage from Evenflo side-impact safety tests. Footage shows child-sized dummies in Evenflo Big Kid booster seats partially spilling out of seat belts during impact, leaving them slumped over the restraints.
ProPublica released the footage as part of a report alleging misrepresentation by Evenflo of safe age, height, and weight limits for their Big Kid booster seat. According to the report, Evenflo took advantage of a lack of federal regulation to create their own safety standards and pass their own products.
Furthermore, the report alleges Evenflo ignored scientific findings to avoid redesigning or relabeling booster seats. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had determined children are safer in harness seats until they outgrow the maximum weight — often 65-80 pounds — Evenflo continued marketing booster seats for children weighing as little as 30 pounds.
Marketing Over Safety?
In 2000, Evenflo introduced the Big Kid booster seat to compete with the similar TurboBooster seat by rival company Graco. In addition to pricing their seat below Graco’s, Evenflo marketed the Big Kid as safe for children as young as one-year-old and weighing 30 pounds or more. This undercut Graco’s seat requirements of at least three years old, 30 pounds, and 38 inches tall.
In 2008, Evenflo added “wings” to the side of the Big Kid. The intent was to increase the “on-shelf perception” of side support, reports ProPublica. This redesigned booster seat appears in the video provided by the website, alongside the no-wings model.
“In looking at these two videos, I don’t see a tremendous difference in terms of what happens to the dummies as a result of the impact,” Dr. Ben Hoffman, author of the AAP’s car seat policy, told ProPublica. “I think the movement of the head and the neck put the movement of the arms and legs outside of their protective shell.”
Concern grew within the company. In 2012, Evenflo’s top booster seat engineer, Eric Dahle, recommended the company discontinue booster seats for children less than 40 pounds, citing government research. Evenflo ignored Dahle’s recommendations, with senior marketing director McKay Featherstone expressing a reluctance to invest in the change.
The company continued to sell Big Kid seats with “Side-Impact Tested” tags attached. In one deposition stemming from a negligence case, Evenflo engineer David Sander said, “We side-impact test our seats, but I don’t think we say that we offer any type of side-impact protection.”
Multiple families have brought legal action against Evenflo in the wake of booster seat injuries to their children.
In 2013, three-year-old Rhea Arias sustained severe injuries in a car accident while sitting in a Big Kid booster. According to ProPublica, Evenflo had changed the minimum age for the seat to four without reflecting the change in packaging. Arias’ mother, Amy Arias, reportedly had no way of knowing her daughter was under the age requirement. Rhea suffered an “internal decapitation” in the accident. She is now paralyzed from the neck down and breathes with a ventilator.
Three years later, five-year-old Jillian Brown suffered internal decapitation in a side-impact accident while sitting in a Big Kid booster. Thirty-seven-pound Jillian was within the advertised safety limits of 30 pounds or more. She, too, now uses a ventilator and suffers paralysis from the neck down.
In reaction to ProPublica‘s news report, a congressional committee has announced an investigation into Evenflo. The inquiry will look specifically at the company’s testing and marketing practices.
EVENFLO NEWS UPDATE
UPDATE – February 2020: Recent news has prompted a class-action lawsuit against Evenflo on behalf of parents who purchased Big Kid booster seats based on misleading advertisements of safety testing.
In an email to Parentology, Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, the law firm leading the suit said, “We intend to show that Evenflo’s marketing of its Big Kid booster seats as ‘safe’ and ‘side-impact tested’ was misleading, if not outright fraud. The company boasted that safety was a number one concern, but at the same time modified its products and designed its own test not to enhance safety and confirm they were safe, but instead simply to drive higher sales.”
According to the firm, the lawsuit will seek to reimburse parents who bought Evenflo seats based on misleading claims of safety testing.
Booster Seat Injuries — Sources
Hagens Berman – “Evenflo Hit by Additional Class-Action Lawsuits Regarding its Big Kid Booster Car Seat and Misleading Safety Claims”
ProPublica – “Evenflo, Maker of the “Big Kid” Booster Seat, Put Profits Over Child Safety”
ProPublica – “House Subcommittee Opens Investigation of Evenflo, Maker of “Big Kid” Booster Seats”