The United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has ordered that multiple lawsuits filed against Evenflo Company Inc. be consolidated to promote “just and efficient conduct.”
The new multidistrict litigation (MDL) seeks to centralize at least 28 pending and potentially-related lawsuits that claim Evenflo deceptively marketed its “Big Kid” booster seats and put young children at an increased risk of injury in the event of a collision.
According to a Transfer Order from the United State Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, plaintiffs allege that Evenflo misled consumers when it claimed in advertising and on product packaging that its “Big Kid” booster seats were “side impact tested” and exceeded governmental standards.
The merits of Evenflo’s side-impact tests have been the topic of previous controversy.
According to an investigative report by ProPublica, Evenflo’s website informed parents that its side-impact tests were rigorous and meant to simulate realistic side-impact crashes. However, years of test videos obtained by ProPublica tells a different story.
In these videos, child-sized crash dummies are shown contoring and being thrown far outside of their should belts as impact occurs. One of Evenflo’s own top booster seat engineers stated during deposition that any real child exposed to the movement and force shown in the crash test videos could suffer catastrophic head, neck, and spine injures or death.
While Evenflo gave the seats passing grades, ProPublica noted that the company’s test bar was so low, “the only way to fail was if the child-sized dummy ended up on the floor or the booster itself broke into pieces.”
It is important to note that there is currently no standardized test for booster seats and child seats when it comes to side-impact collisions, and there fore no real government standard to exceed.
Nearly 20 years ago, Congress passed a law that required the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to implement new rules That would minimize children’s head injuries in the event of a side-impact collision; however, these new rules were never actually enacted.
To date, car seats and booster seats only need to pass test that simulate head-on collisions.
To make matters worse, Plaintiff’s also allege that Evenflo failed to inform consumers that “Big Kid” booster seats were dangerous for children weighing less than 40 pounds. By Evenflo’s own internal records, the safety of the booster seats was a topic of discussion as far back as 2012.
In an email to one of the company’s high-ranking executives, Evenflo safety engineer Eric Dahle recommended that the company stop selling booster seats to children who weigh less than 40 pounds. In his email, Dahle cited government research suggesting children under 40 pounds are safer in car seats that use harnesses. Dahle also noted that the change would match Canadian regulation and would better align with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The executive ultimately “vetoed” Dahle’s recommendation, according to internal records obtained by ProPublica.
When the subject came up again later that year, the same executive, who had been promoted to vice president of marketing a product development, responded in an email with “Why are we even talking about this?”
ProPublica sites several instances in which children suffered catastrophic injury while riding in “Big Kid” booster seats.
In one instance, a 5-year-old girl weighing 37 pounds suffered internal decapitation resulting in paralysis during a side-impact collision while riding in a “Big Kid” booster. This girl’s father said he had purchased the seat because of the number of times it mentioned “safety” on the box.
In the years before that accident, Evenflo had been sued two times for injuries linked to their Big Kid booster seats – one involving a traumatic brain injury and the other involving another internal decapitation.
All three cases were settled out of court.
In 2006, a four-year old boy suffered a traumatic brain injury resulting in another lawsuit. In the suit, the plaintiff’s argued that Evenflo should not have marketed the seat for a child of his size – 36 pounds.
Evenflo agreed that the boy was properly strapped into his booster seat and, once again, reached a confidential settlement.
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