United States: Does “side impact tested” mean the product offers increased safety in side impact crashes?
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In a lawsuit against Graco Children’s Products, plaintiffs alleged that Graco announced that certain booster seats sold by the company were “tested against side impact” and that they were also safe for children as small as thirty pounds and as young as three years old. The complainants argued that these claims – which appeared on Graco’s website, on product packaging, on the seats themselves and elsewhere – were false, given that booster seats do not reduce significantly increase the risks associated with side crashes, that Graco’s own testing does not show that booster seats are safe in a side crash, and that booster seats are not, in fact, safe for children under forty pounds or less than four years old.
The plaintiff has made various claims under a number of state laws. But, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll just focus here on the plaintiffs’ consumer protection claims raised under California law.
In California, as in many states, false advertising and other similar claims are governed by the “reasonable consumer” standard. As the court explained, “under the reasonable consumption standard, complainants must show that members of the public are susceptible to being deceived.”
Graco argued that the plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because Graco’s statements – that the booster seats have been tested for side impact and have a minimum safety weight of thirty pounds – are literally true (or at least meet NHTSA safety standards). The court, however, cleared the lawsuit, noting that “at the very least, reasonable consumers could believe that the booster seats advertised and touted as“ side impact tested ”would provide significantly increased safety in side crashes. The court explained that while the statement is literally true, it would still be liable to prosecution if it was ultimately misleading to a reasonable consumer. ”
While this case is still in its early stages, the court ruling here is an important reminder for advertisers to focus not only on the literal truth of the claims they are making, but on what consumers can reasonably take away. Even when a claim is prima facie false, you should always consider whether consumers will be misled. In this case, the court concluded that – at least in the early stages – it was not unreasonable to think that consumers may understand that a “side impact test” claim communicates more than product n ‘has been tested, but that in fact offered a safety benefit.
With that, have a safe, long weekend!
Carder v. Graco Children’s Products, 2: 20-CV-00137-LMM (ND Ga. August 31, 2021).
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