baby sleeping on a car seat

Parents of young children in South Carolina who are dealing with the costs and losses of a car crash may question whether they need to replace their child’s car seat because it’s been through an accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which enforces vehicle performance standards, says car seats do not automatically need to be replaced following a minor collision. But the agency says the best thing to do is to follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions, which in many cases say to replace the seat after any crash.

The cost should not be a consideration when it comes to ensuring your children are adequately protected while riding in your car. After a car accident, you can add the cost of replacing a damaged car seat to your insurance claim. If the insurance company provides a settlement, it should include the cost of replacing a child car seat or booster seat damaged in the crash.

If the auto insurer for the driver who caused your car accident refuses to pay you a proper settlement, Joye Law Firm can help. Our attorneys’ goal is to make a positive difference in the lives of each person who turns to us for help. Call Joye Law Firm today at (888) 324-3100 or fill out our online contact form.

NHTSA on Car Seat Replacement

child car seat

NHTSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The NHTSA website provides an in-depth discussion of car seats and booster seats for children, including how to choose and use the car seat that’s right for your child.

NHTSA says child safety seats have been shown to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants (younger than 1-year-old) and by 54% for toddlers (1 to 4 years old) in passenger cars. For infants and toddlers in light trucks, child safety seats reduced fatalities by 58% and 59%, respectively.

About car seat use after a crash, NHTSA says:

“NHTSA recommends that car seats be replaced following a moderate or severe crash in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for child passengers. Car seats do not automatically need to be replaced following a minor crash.”

NHTSA says a minor car accident is one in which ALL of the following apply:

  • The vehicle could be driven away from the crash site.
  • The vehicle door nearest the car seat was not damaged.
  • None of the passengers in the vehicle were injured in the crash.
  • If the vehicle has airbags, the airbags did not deploy during the crash.
  • There is no visible damage to the car seat.

Further, “NEVER use a car seat that has been involved in a moderate to severe crash. Always follow manufacturers’ instructions,” NHTSA says.

Previously, NHTSA advised replacing a child’s car seat after an accident. A medically reviewed article on the Verywell Family blog says NHTSA modified its policy because some parents bought used car seats after accidents to save money, which increased the potential that they were using seats with unrecognized damage.

“Even an empty car seat that was buckled into the vehicle will experience crash forces,” Verywell Family says. “The force of the car seat moving forward and being held back by the lower anchor strap or tether strap can cause damage that may be invisible but might keep the car seat from doing its job if you’re in another crash.”

When Is Car Seat Replacement Advised?

Car seat manufacturers tend to advise replacing car seats after any car accident. For example, the user’s guide for the highly-rated Graco SnugRide SnugFit 35 Infant Car Seat says, “If the car seat is in a crash, it must be replaced. DO NOT use it again! A crash can cause unseen damage, and using it again could result in serious injury or death.”

The makers of the Chicco KeyFit 30 infant car seat, which is also well regarded, say, “You MUST replace this Child Restraint if it has been involved in a crash, even if you cannot see visible damage. A damaged Child Restraint may not protect your child in a future crash.”

Most manufacturers make the same recommendation, though some do not. Many follow the NHTSA guidelines and quote the agency’s definition of a “minor” car accident.

If you no longer have your car seat user’s guide, find the manufacturer and model names on the car seat and search with them online to find the manual or how to contact the manufacturer. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and replace a car seat that has been through a crash.

You can also get a certified technician to inspect your car seat free of charge, in most cases, and show you how to correctly install and use it. An NHTSA search engine recently showed 131 locations in South Carolina – typically local fire departments and EMS stations – that provide checks.

Who Is Responsible for Paying to Replace a Car Seat?child car seat

If you file an insurance claim after a car accident, the cost to replace a damaged car seat should be part of the claim. As you document the car accident, you should take photos of any visible damage to the car seat. You should also:

  • Record the car seat’s serial number and expiration date (usually found on the seat under the lining).
  • Search for the seat manufacturer’s user guide and print out the page with its after-crash replacement instructions.
  • Provide a receipt. If you bought it with a debit or credit card or check, records of the purchase should be available from the card provider or bank.
  • Cut the car seat’s straps and take photos of the seat with the cut straps. Cutting the straps ensures that the child seat cannot be used and must be discarded.

When Do You Need to Contact an Attorney?

If you have questions about the aftermath of a car accident and whether you are entitled to claim compensation from the other driver, you should have an experienced car accident attorney review the accident. Some insurance companies will say they can only replace car seats if the crash exceeds NHTSA guidelines for a minor crash or the seat was occupied during the accident.

Joye Law Firm has successfully pursued car accident claims on behalf of injured individuals and their families across South Carolina for more than 50 years. Joye Law Firm offers a free case review to discuss the options available to you. Phone (888) 324-3100 or fill out our online contact form today.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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