More than two years after a horrendous accident in which an infant lost her life because of a defective car seat, federal authorities are still diddling around in their investigation and the car seat manufacturer, Graco, continues to blame its customers.
The story was reported in sad detail on The Safety Record.
In August 2011, Samika Ramirez was driving with her 2-year-old, Leiana Marie Ramirez. When the car started to swerve, Ramirez pulled to the left side of the parkway and turned on her flashers. The divided road had only a narrow shoulder. She was about to call the auto club when another driver rear-ended her car.
It caught fire, and Ramirez tried frantically to unbuckle her daughter, but couldn’t release the harness of the Graco Nautilus child safety seat. With flames engulfing her car, passersby Ramirez pulled out of the car, and Leianna was burned alive.
More than a year later the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation. The results are still pending, but the the Graco Nautilus and 17 other models with buckles difficult to unlatch were recalled. Some consumers told NHTSA that they had to cut the belt webbing to release their children from the seat.
From the beginning, according to The Safety Record, Graco conceded that it was “keenly aware of the issue.” It had received more than 6,100 complaints about it, but said that the difficult of getting a kid out of a seat was merely “a consumer frustration and a consumer experience that Graco has been working to improve.”
So far, Graco hasn’t acknowledged that the defect caused a horrific death, not to NHTSA, not in a defect and noncompliance report, not in NHTSA’s Early Warning Reports.
In 2005, Graco paid a $4 million fine after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) cited its long history of failing to report injuries and deaths. “Even now,” The Safety Record reports, “with the initial recall expanded and under a Special Order to answer all questions truthfully, Graco comforts its customers on its website:
Graco can assure you there have been no reported injuries as a result of the harness buckles used on Graco car seats. We want to stress that our car seats are safe and effective in restraining children. And, the safest way to transport a child is always in a car seat."
NHTSA wouldn’t comment to The Safety Record, but did confirm that the investigation remains open. Christine Spagnoli, an attorney representing the Ramirez family, says that Graco’s failure to acknowledge Leiana’s death undermines the recall, and calls it a consumer safety issue.
“[B]y saying something false to the public,” she said, “they’re trying to save money, at the expense of kids getting hurt.”
After NHTSA began investigating, Graco started blaming consumers, saying they allowed food, drink and bodily fluids to muck up the buckle apparatus, making it difficult for the button to release the metal tongues. Graco said they were just frustrated with the “perception” of difficulty, that they unlatched the harness incorrectly and that the complaint rate was approximately 1 in 1,000.
The feds weren’t buying it, and expressed concern that the malfunction of the quick-release mechanism created “an unreasonable safety condition in that the unlatching of the buckle and/or the extracting of the child would take an excessive amount of time, or may not be possible at all in a post-crash or other emergency situation where time is a critical factor.
"Additionally, First Responders or Good Samaritans, who are unfamiliar with the buckles operation or its sticking characteristics, also may not be able to unlatch the buckle.”
They called Graco’s claim that a child could be removed even when he or she was still buckled “unsustainable” in a post-crash situation.
The to-and-fro between the company and the investigators is as wearying as it is painfully slow. Consumers shopping for child car seats might want to keep in mind, as The Safety Record recounts, that Graco has a history of denial, foot-dragging and responsibility-shifting when it comes to the requirements of NHTSA’s early warning reporting, which compels manufacturers to supply access to recall information.
Graco is obligated to report “any claim against and received by the manufacturer. Claims are merely requests or demands for relief related to a crash, the failure of a component or system, or a fire originating in or from a vehicle. These claims are unverified allegations. They may help NHTSA identify a possible defect, but in and of themselves the claims are not evidence of a defect.”
To see the Graco car seat models that have been recalled, link here.