An alarming new ProPublica report finds that Evenflo, one of the largest sellers of booster seats, ignored safety recommendations that it stop marketing seats for children under 40 pounds. In side-impact safety tests, child-size crash dummies’ bodies were thrown in ways that, the company’s top booster-seat engineer later admitted, could cause catastrophic head, neck, and spinal injuries, or even death, in real child passengers. Nevertheless, Evenflo continued to market its products as safe.
Though child-safety testing laws were enacted by Congress nearly 20 years ago, those requirements ask only that products pass head-on-collision tests — not side-impact crashes. As such, booster-seat-makers are enabled to create their own safety tests, the standards for which may be shockingly subpar. In Evenflo’s case, reports ProPublica, tests were only considered “failed” if the child crash dummies ended up on the floor, or the seat broke into pieces.
In response to the ProPublica story, Evenflo general counsel Amy Blankenship stated that the company “has records of hundreds of accidents in which children seated in Big Kid boosters were unscathed or received only minor injuries ‘unrelated to the car seat,’” and that even in severe accidents, “the injuries of a child weighing less than 40 pounds would be no different from a child who weighs more” as long as the child was properly positioned in the booster seat.
Devastating consumer experiences challenge that argument. Jillian Brown, a then-5-year-old, almost 37-pound girl, was in the back seat in an Evenflo Big Kid booster seat when the car’s driver, her mother, was T-boned by another car. Jillian suffered what medical experts call an “internal decapitation,” leaving her paralyzed from the neck down, needing 24-hour care. The Browns are now suing Evenflo.
Years earlier, two families sued Evenflo when their own children suffered a similarly severe injury (traumatic brain injury in one case and internal decapitation in another) in side-impact crashes involving Big Kid booster seats. The company continued to sell boosters for small children, and Blankenship told ProPublica that “bad driving” is the cause of the outcomes in the lawsuits mentioned.