What Every California Parent Should Know About Defective Child Car Seats

Tragically, injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death among young children in the United States. In 2014 alone, more than 602 children under the age of 12 died as passengers in car accidents and more than 121,350 were injured. Many of these deaths could have been prevented. Studies show that buckling children in age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats, and seatbelts reduces the likelihood of serious and fatal injuries by more than half.2

Although car seats have greatly improved the safety of the youngest and most vulnerable car passengers, car seats are not without their own dangers. In a recent year, more than six million infant and child car seats were recalled for a safety defect in the United States. Unfortunately for parents, many of these car seat recalls are issued after infants and small children suffer serious or fatal injuries in a car accident.

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If your child was involved in a car accident and you believe that a defective car seat played a role in your child’s injuries, you should understand your rights as a parent under California law. This post provides a brief introduction to defective car seat lawsuits in California. First, we give an overview of car seat laws in California. We then explain how parents who follow these laws might be unknowingly subjecting their children to risks. Next, we discuss why a product liability lawsuit might be necessary to secure financial compensation for your child’s injuries that were caused by a defective infant seat or child car seat. Finally, we provide some advice on how to stay informed about car seat recalls.

California Car Seat and Seat Belt Laws

The following laws apply to the use of child safety seats in California.

  • Children under the age of 2 must ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs more than 40 pounds or is more than 40 inches (3 feet 4 inches) tall. The child must be secured in compliance with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat.
  • Children under the age of 8 must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat of the car.
  • Children age 8 or older OR who have reached 57 inches (4 feet 9 inches) in height must be secured by a safety belt.
  • All children age 16 or older must be secured by a safety belt pursuant to California’s mandatory seatbelt law.

Common Car Seat Defects

Parents who follow these California laws and buckle their infants and children in car seats may be exposing their children to risks without even realizing it. Faulty car seats pose serious risks to infants and small children and are typically unrecognizable to parents. The most common types of car seat defects include:

  • Defective Latches or Buckles. If the latches or buckles that are supposed to secure a child passenger are poorly designed or defective, the child is at risk of severe injuries in an accident. A child may be ejected from his or her car seat in a high-impact accident if a buckle or latch is not secure enough. Alternatively, emergency workers may be unable to free a child who was hurt in an accident if the buckle or latch won’t release.
  • Flammable or Dangerous Materials. If a car seat manufacturer uses poor-quality or flammable materials in constructing a child safety seat, a child may suffer burn injuries in a serious accident.
  • Faulty Harness System. When functioning properly, the harness system keeps the child’s body held securely against the car seat. If there are design or manufacturing defects that prevent the harness system from working as it should, a child can suffer catastrophic injuries or be ejected from the car seat in the event of an accident.
  • Weak Seat Frames. If a car seat frame is weak or is made of material that breaks down over time, the car seat may fracture in an accident and fail to protect the child.
  • Poorly Designed Belt Path. A belt path is the mechanism through which a child safety seat is attached to the passenger seat. If the belt path prevents or interferes with a parent’s ability to properly secure the seat, the car seat will offer a child little protection in the event of an accident.

Product Liability Lawsuits for Child Car Seats

If your child was hurt in an accident as a result of a defective car seat, you should consider filing a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the car seat and any other responsible parties. In California, all consumers have the right to safe products. When a manufacturer puts a defective product on the market and consumers are injured as a result, the manufacturer may be strictly liable on the basis of product liability law.

There are three different types of defective product claims that can be filed as a part of a product liability lawsuit. A child safety seat may suffer from a design defect, meaning that something about the way the car seat was designed makes it unreasonably dangerous. Another type of product defect is a manufacturing defect, which means that something occurred during the manufacturing process that caused the car seat not to perform as intended. A third type of product defect is a marketing defect. A marketing defect occurs when a car seat manufacturer fails to include proper instructions or warnings about the car seat’s use.

In a successful product liability lawsuit, you can recover financial compensation for your child’s injuries and other losses, including loss of quality of life and a reduced earning capacity as a result of his or her long-term injuries. An experienced car seat accident lawyer can help you understand whether a product liability lawsuit is right for you and your family and how much your child’s case may be worth.

How Can Parents Keep Their Children Safe?

When you purchase a car seat, you should fill out the registration card that comes with the car seat and mail it back to the manufacturer. Many manufacturers now allow parents to complete an online registration form. This way, the manufacturer can contact you immediately in the event infant or child safety seat is recalled. If your child’s car seat is the subject of a recall, make any necessary repairs according to the manufacturer’s instructions right away, so your child can ride as safely as possible.

Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.