One of the main arguments product and auto manufacturers make in product liability cases is that their product “complies with federal safety standards.” This article in the New York Times tells the tale of how the recall of more than 1 million defective Evenflo Discovery car seats came about. It’s frightening to see that government officials discovered, quite by accident, that this brand of car seats did nothing to protect infants in a side impact crash.
That’s why the government insisted on a recall despite the fact that there is no standard that specifies how well such seats must protect children in a side impact auto accident. Apparently, this type of a recall is unprecedented. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as it turned out, was working on developing side-impact regulations and was conducting some tests as part of that research.
That’s when they saw to their utter horror that when a ram struck the vehicle’s side at 38.5 miles an hour, the portion of the seat in which the infant would be strapped, broke free of the base and was thrown around in the interior. Federal officials described the failure as “catastrophic” and immediately asked Evenflo to recall and stop production of these car seats, which the car seat maker did.
Still, what does Evenflo’s CEO have to say? Of course, their seats are not defective. They meet or exceed federal safety standards. The company is not even giving consumers a new seat following the recall. Instead they’ll give car seat owners a dual hook fastener that they say will prevent the seat from getting ripped off the base. NHTSA reportedly tested the efficacy of the fastener and officials say it worked.
The whole story brings to light a very important issue. Why wasn’t that fastener there in the first place? Why was the defective car seat only discovered by accident? There were reportedly no injuries or deaths attributed to this problem; will it take dead children for NHTSA to strengthen its standards or for Evenflo to issue a recall?
Federal officials are constantly dropping the ball on consumer safety. They’ve done it for going on 30 years now with the rollover and roof crush standard for SUVs, giving manufacturers the license to continue to make vehicles with flimsy roofs that cave in and cause serious personal injuries to their occupants. That standard has still not been revised. How many standards relating to everyday products we use are outdated? Who will stand up for consumers’ rights and fight for them when companies who make these defective products point to an outdated federal standard as an excuse?