Backward-facing car seats for infants are legally required throughout the U.S., but they're not especially simple to install in a vehicle. In fact, three out of four car seats are improperly installed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Babies can be injured both in a car accident, when an improperly installed seat comes loose, or by making mistakes in adjusting the seat's setting and positions, such as by having the harness too loose or the straps in the wrong slot.
Could you be held responsible for any injuries a child incurs in a vehicle if you installed the seat? In some cases, yes. A lawsuit settled last year in New Jersey found that a state worker was responsible for putting in a car seat the wrong way and causing brain damage to a 2-week-old infant. The seat was leaned forward too far, and the baby's head fell forward, restricting her breathing. The state's Department of Children and Families ended up paying out $4.25 million due to their employee's failure to install the seat properly.
How to Avoid Liability for Incorrect Seat Installation
Even if you are a friend or relative of the baby's parents, and even if you have your own experience installing infant car seats, don't take on the task yourself. Proper seat installation can vary depending on:
- Whether the vehicle has a Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, or LATCH, system that makes installation easier;
- Size and condition of the vehicle; and
- Size and model of the car seat.
Only install a car seat for your own child or if you are a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). CPSTs may be found at hospitals or they may be police officers or firefighters. The 3- to 4-day certification course is rigorous and includes written quizzes, skill assessments and a checkup event where participants install and review a variety of seats for community members under the supervision of experienced CPSTs. If you've had this training, you are much less likely to install a seat in a way that would result in injury to a child.
What if Your Child Was Injured as a Result of an Incorrectly Installed Seat?
If you did not install your own car seat, and your child was injured while riding in the vehicle or during an accident, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of your child.
The case must be brought because the person who caused the damage was negligent. In the case of an improperly installed car seat that results in injury, if someone in a position of authority or whom you thought would know about car seat installation took on the task and did it incorrectly or missed a step that should have been taken, that could be considered negligence. If the person who installed your seat incorrectly was working for a government agency or health care facility, you might also be able to bring a suit against the employer.
Contact a personal injury lawyer (like those at Smith & O'Hare PS Inc) to discuss the specifics of your case and whether a lawsuit is an option.