Melanie Roman, 2, was strapped into a Century Smartmove child safety seat in the back seat of her father’s car when the vehicle was involved in a frontal collision followed by a secondary impact. After the crash, the shoulder straps were found loose around Melanie’s arms. She suffered a stretching injury to her spinal cord in the thoracic area, resulting in paraplegia.
Melanie’s past medical expenses of more than $160,000 were paid by Medicaid, and the present value of her future medical expenses and life-care costs is estimated at $12 million. Now 7, she uses a wheelchair and will require lifetime assistance with many daily living activities.
Melanie’s father, on her behalf, sued Graco Products, Inc., the manufacturer of the child seat, alleging it was defectively designed in that the single-piece chest clip holding the shoulder straps in place could be unfastened by a child. The plaintiff contended that Melanie had unfastened the clip before the collision, leaving her restrained only around the lower torso and permitting a lap-belt-only injury to her spinal cord.
The plaintiff was prepared to show that Graco had received more than 800 complaints from parents about children unfastening the clip and that it had subsequently replaced the clip with a two-piece version that children could not unfasten. The company failed to recall the single-piece clip, however, arguing that it was merely a convenience feature rather than a safety feature, the plaintiff claimed.
The defense moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was insufficient evidence that Melanie had unfastened the clip. The plaintiff countered with biomechanical evidence supporting his theory. The trial court denied the motion.
The parties settled shortly afterward for a confidential amount.
Citation: Roman v. Graco Prods., Inc., No. 08-CA-005334 (Fla., Orange Co. Jud. Cir. Feb. 22, 2011).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member R. Ben Hogan III and Jamin Hogan, both of Birmingham, Alabama; and AAJ member Bryan W. Crews, Orlando, Florida.
Plaintiff experts: Gary Whitman, child seat design, Penns Park, Pennsylvania; Martha Bidez, biomechanics, Birmingham; Kelly Kennett, accident reconstruction, Suwanee, Georgia; and Paul Deutsch, life-care planning, Oviedo, Florida.