Graco is recalling millions of its car seats nationwide in response to pressure from federal safety regulators, including the model a toddler in Los Angeles died in during a car fire after the buckle got stuck and her mom was unable to remove her from the seat.
Graco Children’s Products is recalling nearly 3.8 million car seats after an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Two-year-old Leiana Ramirez was killed in a car fire on the Arroyo Seco (110) Parkway in Highland Park while seated in a Graco Nautilus car seat.
Leiana's mother tried to remove her from the burning wreckage, as did a bystander who was hospitalized after cutting his arms trying to extract the baby.
The car seat investigation "revealed numerous instances where the harness buckle was difficult or impossible for consumers to unlatch," according to a letter sent to Graco by the safety agency.
The letter cites a wrongful death suit filed by the Ramirez family over the August 2011 incident in which they allege Graco “designed their ‘Nautilus’ car seat with parts that made it extremely difficult to remove a child that was secured in the seat during an emergency.” The case was resolved in a confidential settlement, Graco told the New York Times.
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A recall announcement posted on the agency's website, says a faulty Graco buckle can make it "difficult to remove the child from the restraint, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a vehicle crash, fire, or other emergency, in which a prompt exit from the vehicle is required."
A statement issued by Graco contends that "food and dried liquids" can get stuck in the buckles and make them "progressively more difficult to open over time." Graco notes that the recall is voluntary. "Graco would like to stress this does not in any way affect the performance of the car seat or the effectiveness of the buckle to restrain the child," the statement said.
The seats in the recall include the 2009 to 2013 model years of the Nautilus, Nautilus Elite Cozy Cline Comfort Sport, Classic Ride 50, My Ride 65, My Ride with Safety Surround, My Ride 70, Size 4 Me 70, Smartseat and Argos 70.
Graco will send replacement buckles to owners who registered their seats. Those who did not register but want a replacement can call their consumer hotline at 800-345-4109 or visit their website.
The investigation into Graco’s car seats by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) began in 2012 after consumers complained that buckles were sticking in the seats. ODI data revealed that 53 of the complainants could not unlatch the buckle at all, leading some to cut the harness straps in order to remove their child.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the age of Leiana Ramirez as 11 months old.