Beasley Allen lawyers commend the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform for its thorough investigation of the deadly Rock ‘N Play infant sleeper manufactured by Fisher-Price and its parent Mattel. The report exposes the great lengths the companies exercised to circumvent the national safety oversight system and the inadequate regulatory and enforcement powers of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to protect the public.
Firm lawyers Demet Basar, Lydia Reynolds, James Eubank and Paul Evans represent plaintiffs seeking to vindicate the rights of purchasers and owners of 4.7 million Rock ‘n Play Sleepers in a national class action litigation over the defendants’ false marketing claims the sleeper was safe and suitable for infant sleep. Ms. Basar is lead counsel in the national litigation.
“Our class action is the perfect vehicle to seek recovery for defendants’ misleading marketing of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper as safe for infant sleep and, more importantly, to protect families from the incalculable loss of a child. We are asking the court to issue an injunction directing defendants to implement a state-of-the-art notice program to warn the public not to use this dangerous product under any circumstances and to implement measures to ensure that no Rock ‘n Play Sleepers remain in parents’ hands. There is evidence that parents and daycare centers are still using it.”
— Demet Basar, Of Counsel
Plaintiffs recently asked the Court to permit the plaintiffs to formally represent the class so that a single trial will resolve the claims of all users of the sleeper.
More than 90 infant deaths
In April 2019, Fisher-Price recalled all 4.7 million Rock ‘n Play Sleepers it had sold since October 2009 and admitted it was aware of the 32 infant deaths. In addition to this multi-district litigation, Fisher-Price and Mattel are also defendants in more than 35 wrongful death suits brought by parents of infants who tragically died in the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper.
The Oversight and Reform Committee’s report findings were the subject of a hearing on Monday in which two mothers testified about the death of their children who were in Rock ‘N Play sleepers at the time of their deaths. During the hearing, Mattel’s CEO, Ynon Kreiz, and Fisher Price’s top executive, Chuck Scothon, admitted more than 90 infants have died in connection with the Rock ‘N Play Sleeper. They stated that parents have trusted the Fisher-Price brand and the safety of its product for over 90 years.
The congressional investigation revealed “no independent research or even internal company research showing that it was safe for babies to sleep at an angle” existed before the Rock ‘n Play was placed on the market. In fact, research, then and now, shows that it is unsafe for babies to sleep at an angle. Additionally, the report notes:
“[i]n three separate instances from August 2008 through February 2009, Fisher Price’s internal Safety Committee warned about the need to research the positioning of infants in the Rock ‘n Play, finding the product was ‘unacceptable’ without such research.”
The report also noted “grave flaws in the U.S. consumer product safety system,” including that manufacturers are allowed to “police themselves.” A significant limitation is Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), which acts as a gag rule on the agency. The rule strictly limits the agency’s ability to share information with the public about dangerous products such as the Rock ‘N Play Sleeper. The report explains that this provision is unique to the CPSC and a restriction “that is not imposed on other federal regulatory agencies.”
Oversight and Reform Committee Recommendations
The report includes the following policy recommendations:
- Repeal Section 6(b) of the CPSA and establish a publicly available, national database that includes data on all known serious injuries and deaths associated with consumer products, identified by manufacturer, product name, and date.
- Remove administrative barriers for CPSC to issue and enforce a mandatory recall if CPSC determines that a product poses an imminent danger of serious injury or death.
- Require manufacturers to submit a report to CPSC demonstrating the safety of any new durable infant or toddler product that falls outside mandatory standards already promulgated by CPSC. The report must affirmatively establish that the design is safe through studies or consultation with relevant experts. The product may not be released until CPSC concludes that the product is safe.
- Require that all licensed care facilities for children register with CPSC, providing contact information that CPSC can use to notify the facilities in the event of a recall.
Calls for Oversight
During the congressional hearing, committee chair Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) echoed the need to strengthen oversight and regulation of the industry.
“Stronger regulation can prevent these tragedies. Current law cedes too much power to corporations selling consumer products while tying the hands of the government agency charged with keeping the people safe. We much strengthen consumer protection laws and empower the CPSC to do its job so that companies making the product don’t have the final word on whether it is safe.”
— Rep Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Oversight and Reform Committee Chair
The case is In re: Rock ‘n Play Sleeper Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation, No. 1:19-mdl-2903. It is consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Western Division for New York.