Car seats can do an amazing job of protecting children in the event of a car crash. After an auto accident, though, is it safe to continue to use a baby’s car seat, or will you need to replace the seat after an accident occurs?
My office hears this question all the time. While we would like to recommend staying on the safe side and following the old guidelines: to always replace your car seat after an accident, we realize that not everyone has the means to do this.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers recommendations on when to replace children car seats after accidents. The NHTSA recommends the following to determine if you need to replace your seat(s):
- The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site;
- The vehicle door nearest the car seat was undamaged;
- There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants;
- The air bags (if present) did not deploy; AND
- There is no visible damage to the safety seat.
If your vehicle and car seats do not meet all five criteria listed above, the car seats should be replaced. Even if there was no child in the safety seat at the time of the accident, you should still replace the car seat.
Most insurance companies will replace your car seat(s) after an accident. They may require you to purchase the replacement seat and submit the receipt for reimbursement. Some insurance companies may send you a check in advance to purchase the replacement seat(s). It is important to keep in mind that your insurance company may only reimburse up to a maximum amount to replace each seat. So, you may not be able to purchase the exact model being replaced. If you do want to pick the exact same model, you may be required to pay the difference.
If your insurance company will not replace your car seat, make sure you have read your car seat manufacturers instruction manual to find out their requirements for replacing the car seat. Some car seat manufacturers state in the user manual that their car seats should be replaced after any crash, no matter how minor. The manufacturers instructions take precedence over other agency suggestions. In this case, since it is required by the manufacturer to replace the car seat, send your insurance company a photo of the car seat and a copy of the page discussing replacement from the instruction manual. This will not guarantee that they will replaced the seat, but it may sway their decision in your favor.
Once your seats have been replaced, it is important to dispose of the old seat properly. Some areas provide recycling programs for expired and/or unsafe seats, so make sure to check your area. If this program does not exist where you live, make sure to dispose of it properly by essentially making it unusable by anyone else. You can do this by cutting the straps and removing all padding and detachable parts.
In general, a car seat is meant to be a one-time use product. It is designed to protect your child through one crash. Once it has done its job, be sure to use the NHTSA guidelines above, along with the manufacturer’s instructions, to determine whether it’s safe enough to potentially withstand another crash and keep your precious cargo well-protected.
Attorney Chelsie M. Lamie is a personal injury attorney located in Safety Harbor, Florida. If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident or slip and fall accident, please call 727-501-3464 for a free consultation. You can also learn more about Attorney Lamie at www.chelsielamie.com.