Seat back failures causing traumatic injury during a crash

Published: Aug. 20, 2018 at 1:31 PM EDT
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"Our children are hurt forever, we just we can't imagine this happening to any other families," said Kristi Reavis.

Ben Reavis and Kristi were stopped in traffic on a Dallas expressway on the way home from church in September 0f 2016. Their two kids, 3-year-old Owen and 5-year-old Emily were in the back seat, in their car seats, when an SUV slammed into the back of their 2002 Lexus sedan at 45 miles an hour. The front seats collapsed, sending Ben and Kristi head first into their own children. Both kids suffered lasting traumatic brain injuries.

"Traumatic brain injury is devastating. We have no idea what is coming."

In a statement, Toyota says it respects the jury's more than $242 million dollar verdict but remains "...confident that the injuries sustained were the result of factors specific to this very severe collision, not a defect in the design or manufacturing..."

"I think the jury pretty much understood that the only way you will get any movement here was to get Toyota's attention or any other carmakers. Toyota testified they had known since the 80s…" says family lawyer Frank L. Branson.

Branson showed the jury parts of our CBS News investigation, including a 2016 report where a jury awarded the Rivera family more than $124 million for a similar crash that left their son with brain damage.

"I am angry that we were never given the chance to make the decision our self. I wish I had seen that piece 6 months before our accident, because I'd have started asking questions about my own car," Ben says.

Our investigation identified more than 100 cases where seatback collapses resulted in serious injuries or death mostly to children in the backseat. But seats in cars meet or exceed federal standards for seat strength that date back to 1967...standards even a banquet chair can pass. Still, car makers and regulators have known of the potential for collapse for decades.

"it is time to step forward, step up, stand up, make a decision, this is unacceptable," Kristi says.

Because of our ongoing investigation, several members of Congress have called on NHTSA to change the seatback strength standard. The agency has consistently maintained it lacks sufficient evidence to take action but has also acknowledged seatback collapse is likely under-reported. Still, NHTSA recommends the backseat as the safest place for kids. Toyota is still considering its next step in the case. We were not able to reach NHTSA over the weekend.