Dangerous Shopping Carts



Wednesday, February 3, 1999

(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)

DIANE SAWYER It’s something you’ve probably done 100 times without even thinking about it, put a child in a shopping cart at the store. And you probably didn’t realize that you may have been putting your child in real danger, though you might change your mind after what you’re about to see. Arnold Diaz is going to show us how thousands of children are seriously injured in shopping cart accidents, sometimes even when they’re wearing a seat belt. Take a look at this.

ARNOLD DIAZ, ABCNEWS (VO) It may not seem risky to put your child in a shopping cart, but the fact is there’s been a dramatic increase in the reported number of children injured in shopping cart accidents. And it can happen in ways you might not expect.
     (on camera) The latest figures show 24,000 children a year are being brought to hospital emergency rooms because of shopping cart-related accidents. That’s double the number of injuries reported 24 years ago.

DR GARY SMITH There was a 3-year-old boy that was brought in by his parents one afternoon. He had fallen from a cart earlier that day. And what he had was a massive bleed inside of his head. Had he not made it to us at that moment, he would have died.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) Dr. Gary Smith says his emergency room staff at Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, sees one to two cases a week of shopping cart accidents.

DR GARY SMITH The dilemma for many parents is to recognize that this potential danger is very real. And that their child, in just a split second, can have his whole life changed.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) How does it happen? Experts say it’s often kids doing dangerous things when their parents aren’t looking. Dr. Smith’s widely reported study found more than half the accidents are caused by kids standing up in the cart, often reaching and grabbing for something on the shelf. But it’s not just kids standing up in the basket. Even the smallest kids can get injured, the ones seemingly safe in the seat. In this Canadian study, researchers showed preschoolers can be up and out of the seat in as little as three seconds. That’s why experts say it’s so important for children riding in shopping carts to have a seat belt on. Most carts carry that warning, but some of those carts don’t have the belt. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the vast majority of falls involved carts that didn’t have belts.

MOTHER Normally, you know, they have a strap, but this one didn’t have a strap in it.

ARNOLD DIAZ (on camera) But seat belts alone won’t solve the problem, because being belted in won’t help a child if the cart tips over. And tipovers, with or without kids belted, account for approximately 1,900 injuries a year. That’s an average of five cases a day. Is there some kind of engineering flaw to a shopping cart like this?

JOHN MORSE (PH), ENGINEER In a word, yes.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) John Morse is an engineer who has been hired to testify against shopping cart manufacturers in a number of lawsuits. Morse says it’s difficult for shoppers to tell, but because of the way some carts have been designed, they tip over far too easily.

JOHN MORSE What’s wrong with this is this handle is located too far toward me.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) Morse says if the shopping cart handle is located too far back, it can create a potential instability with a child in the seat. Using a crash dummy approximately the size and weight of a 3-year-old, he showed me what can happen.

     (on camera) OK, so you — you lean over, you’re talk — you’re getting ready to talk to your child. You’re putting your weight down. And ...

JOHN MORSE Boom, just like that.

ARNOLD DIAZ And he comes down on his head.

JOHN MORSE He comes down on his head, or he comes down and breaks a leg.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) Her parents say that’s exactly what happened to Jessica Borzalleca in another company’s cart when she was 4 years old.

CAROL BORZALLECA, VICTIM’S MOTHER Pull up your thing. I want to see that cast.

ED BORZALLECA, VICTIM’S FATHER We got a shopping cart. I put my daughter in the child’s seat.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) Ed Borzalleca says he asked his older daughter to watch the cart for just a minute, and she apparently leaned on the handle.

ED BORZALLECA I heard a large bang, pretty horrendous scream, and I turned quickly and saw what had happened. That the cart had tipped backwards toward the handle of the cart.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) Jessie broke her thigh bone and spent nearly three months in a body cast.

CAROL BORZALLECA I cringe when I see people putting their kids in a shopping cart, thinking that something like this could happen to them, too.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) And John Morse says some carts are prone to side tipovers because of a narrow wheel base and high center of gravity with a child in the seat.

     (on camera) So the child is leaning over and pulling on something with not much force, you say.

JOHN MORSE Not much force. Easy, easy for a child to put that much force.

ARNOLD DIAZ And then it starts going over and ...

JOHN MORSE Boom. And you’re going to get a serious head injury.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) In fact, it’s this same model cart that allegedly tipped over, causing serious and lasting injury to then 3-year-old Melanie Sanchez.

DORIA SANCHEZ, VICTIM’S MOTHER Everything happens in a second, very quickly.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) Her family says Melanie apparently stood up and reached out for some clothing on a rack, causing the cart to go over.

DORIA SANCHEZ I try to pick her, and she was unconscious. And that’s why I’m so afraid, because “Oh, my God, Melanie has died.”

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) Melanie did not die, but her family claims she suffered permanent brain damage from the fall and is suing, among others, the shopping cart manufacturer, United Steel & Wire. The company denies it produced a defective cart, denies it caused any injury to Melanie, and says the Sanchez family misused the cart. But company president Matt Carstens (ph) does admit that many shopping carts are not as safe as they could be.

MATT CARSTENS, UNITED STEEL & WIRE We’d love to build the safest shopping cart possible. But at this particular juncture, I mean, we’re limited by the market that we serve.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) He says the model cart Melanie Sanchez was in is designed for small stores with narrow aisles. So the cart is short with a very narrow wheel base, not the safest design.

MATT CARSTENS The wider that you can make a shopping cart wheel base and the longer that you can make it, the more stable it’s going to be.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) And in fact, his company makes a bigger, more stable cart, but it’s expensive and not a big seller. Neither is this more kid—safe design from another manufacturer. Critics say the government should set a safety standard that all shopping carts would have to meet, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission says there’s not enough evidence that shopping cart injuries are a major problem. Dr Smith disagrees.

DR GARY SMITH These injuries are potentially very serious. They’re common, and they’re totally preventable.

ARNOLD DIAZ (VO) He says if at all possible, don’t put your child in a shopping cart. Look for alternatives — a stroller or a backpack. And an increasing number of stores are offering baby-sitting on the premises. If you have to use a cart, look for the more kid-safe designs. If your store doesn’t have any, talk to the manager. Make sure the kids don’t ride in the basket. Use the seat belts, and if possible, don’t turn your back on the shopping cart.

DR GARY SMITH I’ve had to face the parents and tell them of the serious injury that their child’s just suffered, and these parents simply can’t believe that it’s happened to their child.

SAM DONALDSON Manufacturers say they’ve been improving the safety of shopping carts, but it is impossible for the average shopper to tell at a glance which are most prone to tipping over. You may get a sense by leaning on the handle and rocking the cart back and forth. But remember, that’s no guarantee, so be careful.

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