A panel of federal judges has determined that all product liability lawsuits filed over Evenflo booster seats will be consolidated and centralized before one judge in the federal court system, as an influx of claims are expected over allegations the child safety seats were not as safe as the manufacturer claimed.
According to allegations raised in nearly a dozen Evenflo booster seat lawsuits filed in eight different U.S. District Courts natiownide, the manufacturer falsely advertised the products as safe, despite the lack of a five-point harness, which the company’s internal memos even admitted were the best practice for keeping children safe. The manufacturer also failed to incorporate side impact safety measures, according to the complaints.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in the litigation, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued a transfer order (PDF) on June 2, indicating that all of the individual claims and class action lawsuits will be consolidated before U.S. District Judge Denise J. Casper in the District of Massachusetts.
The decision came following oral arguments late last month and after both plaintiffs and defendants agreed that consolidation would be the best course of action to avoid conflicting judges’ rulings, avoid duplicate discovery proceedings and to serve the convenience of the court, witnesses and other parties.
“The District of Massachusetts is an appropriate transferee district for this litigation. Ten cases are pending there before the Honorable Denise J. Casper, an experienced transferee judge,” the JPML determined. “We are confident she will steer these cases on an efficient and prudent course. Additionally, the District of Massachusetts, where Evenflo’s senior management are located, is an easily accessible district for this nationwide litigation.”
According to the lawsuits filed so far, Evenflo booster seats were advertised as safe for children as young as one-year-old or as small as 30 pounds. However, internal documents suggest the manufacturer’s own testing revealed the design had problems, yet consumers were not warned about the risk of serious injury or death children may face in a side-impact collisions, even though a “side impact tested” tag was placed on the booster seats themselves.
The seats were sold to more than 18 million families and caretakers.
In February, the public watchdog journalism group ProPublica issued a report on the Evenflo ‘Big Kid’ booster seat, revealing internal documents and interviews with employees, as well as actual testing results, suggesting the seats were much less safe than Evenflo claimed, and that the manufacturer knew it.
ProPublica reported that in a 2016 deposition, an Evenflo project engineer admitted he would not put a 1-year-old in a booster seat, including his company’s own Big Kid seats, which claimed to be safe for 1-year-olds at the time. However, the company was warned long before that by its own employees, the lawsuits note.
In February 2012, a safety engineer issued an internal warning in Evenflo, calling for the company to stop selling the seats for children weighing less than 40 pounds after reviewing crash data which showed children four and younger faced reduced injury risks if they were placed in a full child’s car seat with five-point harness restraints.
With the establishment of coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings, it is expected that Judge Casper will establish a “bellwether” program, where a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and expert testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the claims.
While the outcome of such early trials will not be binding in other cases, they may help the parties reach an Evenflo booster seat settlement, avoiding the need for numerous individual trials in courts throughout the federal court system.