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Human factors expert witness advises on infant’s brain injury from falling out of child seat

Kristin Casler

Written by
— Updated on January 24, 2022

Human factors expert witnessA human factors expert witness advises on a case involving an infant who fractured his skull and suffered a brain injury in a fall from a floor-level child seat. The plaintiff is a mother who received a baby seat as a gift for her infant son. The seat previously had been used by another family member. The baby was sitting in the seat on the floor when he flipped out and struck the hard floor. The child’s babysitter was standing nearby when he fell. The baby suffered a skull fracture that required hospitalization.

The mother filed a products liability and failure to warn action against the manufacturer and retailer of the baby seat.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Were the warnings on the seat adequate?
  • 2. In what ways could they have been improved?

Expert Witness Response

A prior version of this seat was recalled because of problems with the safety warnings. Because the plaintiff was not the original purchaser, she did not see the packaging or receive instruction sheets. Thus, the only warnings that the plaintiff had were on the seat itself.

My bottom-line opinion is that the post-recall warnings for the subject seat were defective, making the product unreasonably dangerous as sold and also when acquired and used by the subsequent family. Further, the seat is defective because it allows a child to fall out.

My warnings opinions are based on well-known, fundamental human factors/ergonomics principles that are largely based on empirical studies in peer-reviewed publications.

A warning must be noticed first and examined. It is my understanding that neither the givers of the seat, nor the plaintiff, remembers seeing the warnings on the seat. The seat did not contain a well-designed warning on the rear. The text size is very small. Its location is poor; it is on the lower back of the seat where caretakers would not be looking if facing the face of their baby. And the print is of poor quality—the lettering appears faded, smeared or ill-formed. Thus, it is my opinion that the safety information in the warning message is not adequately salient. Likewise, the additional post-recall warning on the front side of the seat is flawed in terms of message degradation/smearing and tiny lettering. The small, ill-formed print makes reading difficult even from relatively short distances away. Both the old and new warnings lack adequate color and brightness contrast. This inadequate contrast would reduce the print’s legibility even if the lettering was fully formed.

Several other principles of effective warnings are violated with regard to salience. One is placement/location of the warnings. The optional tray can obscure the post 2007 recall warning during the time the caretaker is looking down to interact with a child.

The multiple combination of failings with respect to known formatting aspects suggests that the defendant manufacturer did not do much, if any, investigation into determining proper warnings for its product before or after the 2007 recall, despite knowledge that people were not noticing the warning. The company should have come up with a better method of providing warnings that would last the life of the product. The verbiage in the rear on-product warning expresses content in odd ways. It has information related to the hazard but it seems to skip around a lot to avoid telling what the hazard is.

Because this product is likely to be considered benign from its simple appearance, and thus it does not inculcate much consideration of safety, people will not be likely to look for or notice warnings associated with this product.

The warnings (both pre- and post-recall) violated basic principles of effective warnings in the human factors literature available prior to the manufacture of this unit.

From my work in other cases involving the manufacturer and the retailer, it is clear that the retailer knew about the dangers prior to the purchase of the seat in this case. I have seen no evidence that the retailer made any suggestions to the manufacturer to improve its warnings or to put on seatbelts. I believe that the retailer, given its knowledge of young children getting out, falling and being injured, should have played a bigger role instead of doing nearly nothing.

The above defects rendered the seat unreasonably dangerous such that the defendants in this case should not have made the seats available for sale in the condition in which they were sold. Furthermore, this case serves to solidify my opinion that the pre-2012 recall seat is not safe for use, even when placed on the floor.

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