Lawsuit against car seat manufacturer set for trial next year

Jacksonville 5-year-old was permanently injured in 2014 crash

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Duval County judge set an Aug. 14, 2017, trial date for a lawsuit alleging that Evenflo, an Ohio-based car seat manufacturer, improperly recommends car seats that are too big for children.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the parents of a 5-year-old girl permanently injured in a 2014 crash on Baymeadows Road at Interstate 295 and names three plaintiffs: the two adults operating the car at the time and the car seat manufacturer.

The suit alleges negligence on the part of Evenflo, "by designing, developing, testing, manufacturing, marketing, a product that does not provide adequate crash protection.” The suit added that the booster seat in the crash was “a product for children under 40 pounds that does not incorporate a five-point harness." Such a harness straps over the shoulders, around the waist and between the legs.

"Evenflo, due to marketing practices, invites smaller children to be placed in belt position booster seats when those children would be better served by a five-point harness safety seat," the parent's attorney, Adam Langino, said.

Langino said Evenflo’s product ignored safety recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"The child that I represent in this crash was ejected from her booster seat, which caused her cervical spinal injury. Had she been in a safety seat with a five-point harness car seat, her injuries would’ve been prevented," Langino said.

Evenflo's associate general counsel, Amy Neff, defended the booster seat named in this case.

"This is an open piece of litigation so I’m obviously not going to comment on any particulars," Neff said. "The case involves an Evenflo Big Kid booster, and Big Kid has been sold for over a decade. It has an extremely good safety report. It complies and exceeds all government safety standards both here and in Canada. Evenflo maintains that a belt positioning booster adequately provides the appropriate amount -- again putting the child in the proper position to use the vehicle restraint system."

At Tuesday morning's hearing, Evenflo's attorneys told Judge Tomas Beverly that they would need at least 60 days, probably more, for their experts to respond to the plantiff's expert witnesses because this is a complex case that may involve testing of the booster seats in question.

Beverly said if the trial doesn't start next Augustine, it would likely be pushed back to December 2017.

Dr. Harold Laski, of Southside Medical Center, said there are numerous issues with car seats involving the age and weight of the child. Laski said making sure there is enough secure strapping, like the five-point harness, is critical to protecting bones and the brain.

"You think of it in physics: If a body can move, you get just what we get with concussions where there’s damage to the brain," Laski said. "That’s not the only problem. The problem is the entire body if the seat belts are not tight enough (or) if the incorrect type of seat is used.

"We have bones that are forming in children, we have the clavicles, we have all these bones that are mobile and if you have something that’s not appropriately tight it’s not going to help a child when there is a crash.

Evenflo has not responded to a request for comment.

The hearing is being held on Child Passenger Safety Week in Florida, reminding motorists to properly restrain children in restraints appropriate to their age, size and weight. The Florida Highway Patrol offers free car seat checks and installations at its troop headquarters at 7322 Normandy Blvd. Call 904-693-5070 for an appointment.

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