For years, it has been a primary goal of Beasley Allen to educate parents on the importance of restraining a baby, toddler or young child in a child safety seat that is designed for the child’s age. Each year, Beasley Allen is a major sponsor of Seat Check Saturday, a program held in Montgomery during the National Child Passenger Safety Week. At Seat Check Saturday, trained technicians examine the child seats in every car that comes to the event to insure that the child seats are properly installed in the vehicles.
Sadly, even a properly installed car seat cannot prevent injuries and deaths if the car seat manufacturer defectively designs the seat. Such is the tragic case of Graceyn Thrailkill, who at the age of 4 was rendered a paraplegic because the car seat she was riding in at the time of accident was defectively designed.
Recently, a Mississippi jury awarded Graceyn Thrailkill more than $52,000,000 in a case her mother filed against Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc., the manufacturer of the Cosco Protek belt positioning booster seat Graceyn was riding in at the time of the accident. The facts of this case are indeed tragic, but preventable had Dorel not chosen to put its own profits ahead of the safety of consumers. On March 25, 2008, Graceyn was a passenger in a Nissan Quest minivan operated by her mother, Holly Thrailkill. Graceyn was situated in the right rear of the vehicle in the booster seat. The minivan collided head-on with another vehicle that had veered into the minivan’s lane. Graceyn fractured her spine and was rendered a paraplegic. Her mother suffered two broken legs, but fully recovered. The passengers in the other vehicle walked away from the accident. The ONLY injury Graceyn received was to her spine. She did not have a head injury. The first witnesses on the scene thought Graceyn was fine until it became obvious that she could not move her legs.
The Thrailkills sued Dorel and the driver of the other vehicle. At trial, Plaintiff expert Dr. Jeremy Cummings testified that the shoulder belt positioning guide on Graceyn’s Protek belt positioning booster seat was defectively designed in that the belt guide would not properly retain the shoulder belt in the event of a crash. During the crash, Graceyn’s shoulder belt popped out of the Protek’s belt positioning guide. The shoulder belt then became hung on Graceyn’s elbow. As a result of the Protek’s failure to retain the shoulder belt in the guide, Graceyn’s upper body was unrestrained and she flexed over the lap portion of her seat belt, causing damage to her spinal cord.
It was revealed during trial that Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc. knew from internal crash testing conducted on the Protek that the shoulder belt was popping out of the Protek shoulder belt guide. The evidence at trial demonstrated that the original design of the Protek booster seat included a steel rod that ran across the back of the seat. Internal documents revealed that Dorel management was concerned about the cost of the Protek. The Dorel designers originally looked at cutting cost in the seat cover fabric of the Protek. However, this alone was not sufficient to get the cost down. One Dorel executive stated in an e-mail, “More importantly, what can we do besides looking at seat cover to reduce costs?”
In December 2003, the Protek was tested and certified by an outside testing facility to FMVSS 213, which is the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard on booster seats). However, in early 2004, Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc. removed the steel rod to save $0.15 per seat. The document authorizing the removal of the steel rod gives “cost improvement” as the reason for removing the steel rod. Thus, Protek seats manufactured after March 15, 2004, did not have the steel rod. Subsequent internal testing performed in 2004 by Dorel on Protek seats without the steel rod showed a problem with the shoulder belt popping out of the belt guide.
Graceyn suffered a fractured spine from the accident, and was rendered a paraplegic with no feeling below the chest. She underwent a total of 10 surgeries at the time of trial, including a spinal fusion. Plaintiff claimed $1,080,450.00 in past medical costs, and in excess of $60,000,000.00 in life care planning, as well as pain and suffering damages. The jury found Dorel 50 percent at fault and Gann 50 percent at fault.
Sadly, even the most diligent parent cannot prevent injuries to their young ones if manufacturers ignore safety standards and their own testing in order to save money. Manufacturers that would risk the health, safety and welfare of the little ones their products are supposed to protect should be held accountable when they put defective products on the market.
The only purpose for a child safety seat is to protect children. Yet, some child seats fail in the one task they were designed to perform, as shown tragically by the Thrailkill case. What are some signs that a safety seat may have failed in a collision? The child safety seat may be the issue if a child in a child safety seat is seriously injured or killed in a wreck in which others aren’t seriously injured. Many times the child safety seat fails, breaks or detaches from its base. Unfortunately, the problems with car seats are extensive. Edward L. Sanders and John L. Davidson, who are with Davidson Bowie Sanders, located in Flowood, Miss., and Edward Blackmon, Jr., with Canton-based Blackmon & Blackmon, represented the family in this case. They did a very good job for their clients.
If you have any specific questions about child safety seats, contact Dana Taunton, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Dana.Taunton@beasleyallen.com.
Source: Davidson Bowie Sanders
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