This is the next of a series of columns on how the law can impact your life. Each month we will focus on various aspects of the law relating to personal injuries, those that happen both on-the-job and otherwise, including mishaps which occur in driving vehicles, using defective products and receiving medical care. The column will also respond to legal questions relating to personal injury that are sent to us.
Healy Scanlon Law Firm is comprised of eight trial attorneys, two of whom are from Ireland. We are located downtown at 111 West Washington Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, Illinois 60602 (Call 312-226-4236). www.HealyLawFirm.com. The firm concentrates in the representation of injured victims of all types of accidents.
Readers are encouraged to call or write with questions concerning personal injury law.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates the safety of many products we use on a daily basis. On occasion, it mandates a product recall, and sometimes the manufacturer voluntarily recalls a product. Over the years, there have been recalls on various types of cribs for infants. In early May of this year, the CPSC and Stork Craft Baby Cribs recalled more than 500,000 cribs because the metal support brackets used to support the crib mattress and mattress board can crack and break with ordinary use. When the support is broken, the mattress can collapse causing a gap between the mattress and crib rails, where a child can become trapped and suffocate.
The recalled cribs carried the popular Fisher-Price logo and were sold at multiple major retailers including J.C. Penney, K-Mart, Walmart and Amazon.com, babiesrus.com andCostco.com. The cribs were sold from May 2000 until January 2009. Owners of these recalled cribs were sent a replacement kit with new support brackets.
Shortly before the Stork Craft recall, the CPSC and another crib manufacturer, Jardine, recalled 96,000 cribs, involving seven different models of cribs sold since 2005. The cribs were sold at popular stores such as Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us nationwide and online at babisesrus.com. The recall was based on 31 incident reports of slats breaking. Two of the reports described children becoming entrapped in the gap created by a broken slat. In 10 of the accidents, the child broke the slat while inside the crib. When the slats are broken, it could allow an infant to trap his or her head between the remaining slats causing serious injuries or death. When this type of danger is recognized, it is very important that parents first of all be aware of it and, second, take the necessary steps to prevent injury or death.
The CPSC instructed users to immediately stop using the recalled cribs and to contact the manufacturer to receive a full credit toward the purchase of a new crib. However, comments on the consumerreports.org website indicate that Jardine is slow to respond to requests for a replacement, and that since the recall, Babies “R” Us has been out of stock on similarly priced cribs.
The recent Jardine recall was actually an expansion of an earlier recall by Jardine and the CPSC. In January, the firm recalled 3 models of cribs, totaling about 56,000 units for the same problem.
Stork Craft and Jardine cribs are only the most recent in a long line of cribs with problems and recalls. In April 2009, approximately 1 million Simplicity brand cribs were recalled after reports of two infant deaths and over 50 other incidents involving these cribs. The defect in the Simplicity cribs allowed the user to inadvertently install the drop-side of the crib upside down, causing weakness in the hardware and allowing the drop-side of the crib to detach. As with other crib defects, the misassembly created a gap where a child could become trapped or suffocate.
An infant death last year also prompted the recall of 985,000 Delta Enterprise Drop Side cribs because of missing safety pegs allowing the drop side to detach. The recall was based on the one death as well as two entrapments and nine disengagements when the safety pegs were missing.
Of course, a recall cannot help a parent with a dangerous crib unless that parent is aware of the recall. One way of becoming aware of a recall is receiving a notice sent by the manufacturer. When either a mandatory or voluntary recall is initiated, a notice will usually be sent to the “buyers” of the recalled product. The notice will tell the buyer that they may have purchased a defective product, and they will be instructed how to remedy the defect. This notice, however, may have many problems.
First, the manufacturer’s record keeping may not be accurate or up-to-date, resulting in not all of the buyers receiving notice. Unlike the purchase of an automobile, where there is much paper work and licensing involved, the purchase of a crib will not be as well documented as to buyer information. There are other sources, but most buyer information comes from warranty or survey information sent to the manufacturer by the buyer. Sometimes, products come with a registration card to be sent back to the manufacturer which would provide them with name and address information.
Second, with the increase in the volume of mail, a recall notice can easily be dismissed as junk mail by a consumer. Finally, many infant products are handed down between family members or given to friends once the first child has grown out of them. As a result, the notice is not getting to, or is not getting quickly enough to, the person who currently uses the dangerous product.
So what is a consumer to do? Especially where child safety products are involved, it is important to be proactive. The Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps a list of recalls on its website, www.cpsc.gov. The recalls can be searched by the approximate date of the recall, the product type, the manufacturer name, and the type of hazard. Most importantly, the CPSC has sections on the recall page of its website labeled “child products (not including toys)” and “toys.”
As a parent, it may be a good idea to check the CPSC website after purchasing a crib to see if there are any issues with the particular model. If you receive a crib as a gift, especially if it is a used crib from family or friends, it is important that you check to make sure that there have not been any recalls, since you will not be mailed a formal notice of recall if you are not listed as the actual “buyer.”
Finally, if you have a crib and believe it may be defective, you should immediately stop using it, find a safe alternative and notify the manufacturer and the CPSC. Most product recalls begin with consumer complaints. Only by letting the CPSC know about product defects can we attempt to limit the harm to others.
If injuries do result from a defectively manufactured crib, you may have a products liability claim against the manufacturer. Because time is of the essence, you should consult with an attorney immediately if you believe you may have a claim. If there are any questions, feel free to call Healy Scanlon Law Firm at 1-312-226-4236 for information.