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Q

I was recently told that if you are in an accident and you have a child in a car seat that the insurance company will have to purchase a new car seat for your child. Is this a true statement?


A

It may be true that your child's car seat can be replaced as part of your car insurance claim depending upon your state's laws.

State laws and insurance companies' guidelines and policy terms vary so if the accident was major enough then you should request that the car seat be replaced. Whether your insurance claim will cover the cost of a replacement car seat will then be up to the terms of your policy and state laws.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that child safety seats be replaced following a moderate or severe crash in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for child passengers. Also the manufacturer of your child's car seat should have on their site facts about when they believe a car seat should be replaced after an accident.

NHTSA recommends that child safety seats do not automatically need to be replaced following a minor crash. Minor crashes are those that meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site;
  • The vehicle door nearest the safety seat was undamaged;
  • There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants;
  • The air bags (if present) did not deploy; AND
  • There is no visible damage to the safety seat.

The state that definitely requires auto insurance insurers to replace car seats after an accident when specific types of claims are placed is California. In CA, liability insurance must cover replacement of car seats involved in an accident. Car seats that were involved in an accident may be taken to the California Highway Patrol.

California insurance code 11580.011, effective as of 2003, notes that every policy of automobile liability insurance, as described in Section 16054 of the Vehicle Code, shall provide liability coverage for replacement of a child passenger restraint system that was in use by a child during an accident for which liability coverage under the policy is applicable due to the liability of an insured.

Subsection (c) of this CA insurance law states that every policy of automobile liability insurance that provides uninsured motorist property damage coverage, shall provide coverage for replacement of a child passenger restraint system that was in use by a child during an accident for which uninsured motorist property damage coverage under the policy is applicable due to the liability of an uninsured motorist.

Subsection states (d) that every policy that provides automobile collision coverage or automobile physical damage coverage, shall include a child passenger restraint system within the definition of covered property, if the child passenger restraint system was in use by a child during an accident.

Upon the filing of a claim pursuant to a policy described in subdivision (b), (c), or (d), unless otherwise determined, an insurer shall have an obligation to ask whether a child passenger restraint system was in use by a child during an accident that is covered by the policy, and an obligation to replace the child passenger restraint system in accordance with this section if it was in use by a child during the accident or reimburse the claimant for the cost of purchasing a new child passenger restraint system.

In California, an insured, upon acquiring a replacement child passenger restraint system, may surrender the child passenger restraint system that was replaced to the nearest office of the Department of the California Highway Patrol.

Whether or not your insurance carrier pays for a new child car seat as part of your claim after an accident will depend upon your state laws. If state laws are not in place regarding this situation then it would be up to the terms of the insurance policy being used. Your state's insurance regulator will be able to tell you if your state requires an insurer to replace your child's car seat as part of your accident claim.

If your state does not mandate that the child seat be replaced you can still request it as part of your claim to see if the insurance company involved will accept it as part of your claim. It will help if you can show that your crashed seat meets the manufacturer's guidelines and/or NHTSA's for replacement.

Some insurance companies are very proactive about covering crashed seats regardless of the manufacturer or crash details; while others may not accept it as part of the claim if state laws and their internal guidelines do not call for a child seat to be replaced as part of the claim settlement after an accident.

There are insurance companies that will direct you to purchase a replacement seat and submit the receipt for reimbursement while others that pay for a child seat replacement will prorate the original purchase price of your crashed seat(s) to determine how much to reimburse you. Be sure to clarify what the insurance company will specifically cover before purchasing a new seat that you expect the insurance company to reimburse you for.

If your child seat does need replacing due to this accident we would advise you to contact your local police or fire station to find out where to dispose of the child seat that was in the accident so that it will not be used by others since it may be compromised.


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