Providing Car Seats: Loan or Charge? Who’s Liable?

Posted on July 1, 2015 by - Also by this author

Recently Douglas Schwartz, owner of Executive Limousine in Bellmore, NY, began a discussion about whether or not to provide car seats when clients ask for them. Specifically, Schwartz wanted to know if other operators charge for the use of car seats.

The audience included some big names who have been in the industry for a long time, including Dennis Adams of Celebrity Worldwide near Philadelphia, David Seelinger from Empire CLS, Jason Sharenow from Broadway Elite in New Jersey, and Jennifer Paris of Paris Limousine of Oklahoma, just to name a few. I was truly stunned at the comments made that ranged from concerns about liability to who installs the car seat: the chauffeur or the parent. The discussion also included whether companies store client owned car seats for clients and if they did, whether or not they charge for storage.

Why was I stunned? Because we have always provided car seats and booster seats free of charge. We store anything for a client for free. This includes blankets, pillows, ice chests and car seats. We have never thought about charging for a car seat or storage.  Quite honestly, I believe it is petty and greedy. Some will not agree, but the great thing is, this is my blog so I get to express my views.

The true amusement came from all the people who hid behind a concern for liability.  You are liable for anything that happens in your vehicle. Whether your chauffeur or the parents installed the car seat, you will be sued if anything happens to that child in your vehicle. That's the premise for having insurance. Your insurance company is more than likely going to settle the case long before it hits a court room without admitting liability.

Speaking of insurance, I contacted my provider who sent me a written response acknowledging that we need to supply car seats so the liability thing doesn't wash for failing to provide car seats.  
 
State-by-state laws on car seats

Here is the official [unedited] statement by Zurich NA to my e-mail inquiry:

While most limousine operations recognize that passengers need to be properly secured, including child safety seats as appropriate, many companies place this expectation on the passengers themselves to provide the correct child car seat and to secure it in the vehicle. Even though there are no federal requirements regarding car seats, many states have enacted car seat laws.
 
For limo operations that do provide child safety seats as a service for passengers, there are a number of controls that should be put into place to reduce the likelihood of misuse or improper installation.
 
• All child safety seats should be purchased new and certified for use in the United States. Car seats have an expiration date which accounts for component and plastic wear over time and should be discarded after that date OR if the seat is involved in a collision or otherwise damaged.
 
• Supplying the correct car seat can be a challenge because there are a variety of types - everything from rear-facing for an infant to boosters for a toddler. You have to know the specific age and weight of the child in order to supply the correct child safety seat.  Excellent information on car seat selection, installation and use is available at the U.S. government website http://www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats/Car-Seat-Safety.htm
 
• Limo operators should train drivers who are expected to install car seats in their vehicles on recognition of the specific car seat needed and additionally the proper installation method for that specific seat. Some organizations will provide training and inspection for drivers and parents to confirm that child safety seats are being correctly installed.
 
• Child safety seats should be uniquely marked and tracked so that they can be subjected to an ongoing inspection regime by a person who is able to periodically review for damage or other issues.
 
• Manufacturers frequently issue recalls on child safety seats and the limo operator cannot continue to use a seat that has been recalled. Best Practice is to register each seat at the safercar.gov website (http://www.safercar.gov/parents/CarSeats/Car-Seat-Safety.htm) and they will send notice of any information or recall on the specific seats that you have.  If a car seat is recalled it should be put out of service and considered unusable until it is determined if it can be either repaired or replaced.  Car seats should never be donated or sold after they have been used.

• Car seats should have a process in place to inspect, clean and sanitize car seats after each use. 
• If a car seat was in a vehicle involved in a crash it should be removed immediately from service no matter how minor the damage.
 
• Car seats should be stored in a climate-controlled environment because heat can cause the plastic to fatigue prematurely.  Also, car seats should be protected in a bag to prevent exposure to dust and insects.
 
• A procedure should be developed and implemented to periodically replace car seats as they age and become susceptible to deterioration and degradation.
 
Recognize that as the vehicle operator, your driver, and by extension you, are ultimately responsible for the safety of all passengers. The best approach is to analyze the exposures and hazards then develop measures to eliminate or control the hazards and minimize the risk. Perhaps the most important factor is to have a strong management program that recognizes the issues inherent in providing and installing child safety seats as part of the transportation service.  Recognize that as the vehicle operator, the limousine driver, and by extension the company, is ultimately responsible for the safety of all passengers. Company management, supervisors and drivers all must be educated and play an important role in helping to ensure that passengers are kept as safe as possible.  Remember, the best approach is to analyze the exposures and hazards then develop measures to eliminate or control the hazards and minimize the risk.
 
©2015 The Zurich Services Corporation

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