£7.5 million law suit for child slipping out of car seat harness settled out of court

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Melanie Roman, aged 2, was travelling in a Graco child seat when the vehicle was involved in a frontal collision, followed by a secondary impact (Source: www.justice.org, American Association for Justice). After the crash, the shoulder straps were found loose around Melanie’s arms. Evidently, she had unfastened the chest clip prior to the accident and had removed her arms, creating a lap belt (Watch simulation of 30mph impact: Child dummy in similar position with shoulders freed from harness).

Melanie suffered a spinal cord injury, resulting in paraplegia. She is now in a wheelchair and will require assistance for the rest of her life.

In the USA, the issue of children wriggling out of their harness has long been acknowledged and the solution until now, despite its many drawbacks and risks, has been the chest clip.

The Roman v Graco case, from the USA, centred on whether or not the chest clip could be unbuckled by a child as opposed to focusing on the design flaw inherent in the car seat harness set up when deployed in a child environment. The design flaw is highlighted by the ease with which children can slip their arms under the harness. The issue is the gap between the harness and the child’s body, just above the red release buckle. Car seat manufacturers have tried to work around this problem by simply attaching a secondary clip or buckle in the chest region, with the objective of holding the two shoulder harnesses together. The chest clip does not tackle the actual design flaw of the harness, but is merely a work around that also introduces additional risks (see http://5pointplus.com/no-wonder-chest-clips-on-car-seats-are-illegal/.

When designing a product, thought must be given to reasonable foreseeable use and potential type of user. Car seats are obviously used by children and “the unpredictable behaviour of children” (source: The General Product Safety Regulations 2005) should be considered as very important. The child’s ability to comprehend why they must not push their arms under the car seat harness, effectively releasing their shoulders from the car seat restraint needs to be taken in account too.

Since the development of the 5 point plus system, car seat manufacturers have a safe and effective solution to the problem of young children slipping their car seat harness. No longer should cases focus on the chest clip but on the design flaw itself and whether or not parents have used the seat as per user instructions.

It has been reported that the Roman v Graco case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum(http://www.justice.org/cps/rde/xchg/justice/hs.xsl/15319.htm).

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