Graco Car Seat Recall Results in Fine of Up To $10M Fine
Graco faces fines of up to $10 million for failing to report nearly 6,000 consumer complaints involving problems with child car seats, where the buckles may fail to release and potentially cause children to become trapped in the event of an emergency.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it was imposing a $3 million fine against Graco Children’s Products in a press release issued on March 20. The agency also warned that Graco could face an additional $7 million in fines if the company fails to spend at least the same amount improving the safety of its products.
The fines come as the result of an NHTSA investigation into Graco car seat problems, including the company’s failure to provide timely warnings about seat buckle defect that resulted in the largest child seat recall in history.
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The NHTSA investigation stems from almost a year-long battle with Graco, who refused and denied defect allegations for nearly 6 million child car seats.
In October 2012, the NHTSA became aware of consumer complaints indicating that certain Graco car seats child safety harness buckles were becoming stuck and causing difficulty removing children from the car seats. Some reports even indicated parents had to cut the harness straps to remove children from the car seats, which could pose a serious safety risk in the event of an accident, fire or other emergency.
The NHTSA consulted Graco about the potential dangers of the buckles jamming and requested the company recall those certain car seats to mitigate further dangerous situations. Graco refused to recall the car seats, forcing the agency to write an executive letter requesting the manufacturer conduct a recall, identifying more than 6,000 customer complaints of Graco baby seat buckles jamming and trapping infants in car seats.
Graco finally initiated the recall of 3.7 million child car seats with jamming buckle designs on February 11, 2014.
After the NHTSA further evaluated customer complaints, it recognized the same buckle design problems with certain rear-facing car seats which allowed food and liquids to enter the tracks, causing the buckles to stick and not release when pressed, posing a removal hazard from the car seat.
When consulted about the similar design defect for the rear-facing car seats, Graco again refused to acknowledge the hazard to children and infants, and claimed owners should clean the harness buckles regularly to prevent jamming. On July 1, 2014, the NHTSA expanded the Graco child seat recall to include an additional 2 million rear-facing car seats.
The NHTSA opened an investigation on December 1, 2014, to review the timeliness of Graco Children’s Products reporting of problems associated with the nearly 6 million recalled child seats.
Since car seats are considered vehicle equipment products, companies are mandated by law under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act to report any known issues with the products that may cause a safety related defect within five business days to the NHTSA. Failure to report such issues can result in civil penalties upward of $35 million.
The NHTSA’s investigation recovered thousands of car seat-related consumer complaints and an undisclosed number of violations to report safety hazards within the allotted time frame. Under the consent order issued on March 20, Graco officials admit they failed to provide the required defect notice.
Also included in the penalties are obligations for Graco to improve its assessment and identification process for potential safety defects, create scientifically tested programs to increase effectiveness of child seat restriction programs, revise it consumer alerting program, and launch a campaign to disseminate safety messages to parents and caregivers by producing media products to incorporate in child safety campaigns.
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