On April 12, 2019, children’s toy company Fischer-Price announced they are in the process of recalling 4.7 million of their Rock ’n Play sleepers. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC) posted a recall notification on their website that applies to all models. The notification states, “Since the 2009 product introduction, over 30 infant fatalities have occurred in Rock ‘n Play Sleepers, after the infants rolled over while unrestrained, or under other circumstances.” Further, the recall advised that consumers stop using the product entirely “and contact Fisher-Price for a refund or voucher.”
The Initial Warnings: Fischer-Price Issues A Recall Notice, Mattel Steps In
The recall follows in the footsteps of a warning issued one week prior by the company and the USCPSC that instructed consumers to stop using the product “as soon as the infant exhibits rollover capabilities”, which would equate to around three months old. The warning also made mention of 10 infant deaths.
More recently, Consumer Reports worked hand-in-hand with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to persuade Fischer-Price to remove the product from shelves. An investigation conducted by Consumer Reports turned up 32 dead babies, with some of them even younger than three months. Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports, used this as an opportunity to claim that the report should have been issued much sooner. She said, “The Fisher-Price recall of the Rock n’ Play is long overdue. Fisher-Price and the CPSC knew about deaths linked to this product for years and could have taken steps to avoid this unnecessary tragedy. It took dogged investigation and the voices of doctors, victims’ families, and advocates across the country to make this recall a reality. Congress needs to take a hard look at the CPSC and make sure it is a watchdog that consumers can rely on.”
On Thursday, April 11, Consumer Reports found that four more infant deaths were attributed to two different sleepers produced by the company Kids II: the Bright Starts Playtime to Bedtime Sleeper and the Ingenuity Moonlight Rocking Sleeper.
Shortly after, Mattel, Fisher-Price’s parent company, posted a recall notice on their website letting customers know how to initiate the refund process. It also explained that if they had owned a Rock ’n Play Sleeper within the last 6 months, they would receive a full cash refund. Further, the notice stated that customers who still had their receipts would be “reimbursed for the receipt amount including sales taxes paid.” Those without receipts were told to write the month and year the purchase was made on one of the items they are returning. While it is certainly acceptable that the company is accepting returns, some are wondering whether that is enough.
Claims Of Dubious Marketing
A quick glance at Fisher-Price’s social media content yields hundreds, if not thousands, of images of babies snugly positioned inside the Rock ’n Play. Some are crying foul because the marketing campaign seems designed to assuage sleep deprived parents into thinking the product will ensure they get a peaceful night’s rest. Images aside, examining the copy a little more closely makes it clear that customers still did not understand the potential harm that could result from using the product.
Several lawsuits are now echoing claims previously raised by doctors and consumer safety advocates that accuse Fisher-Price of failing to do all that was necessary to fix the problem. During the most recent recall, the company deflected blame for the 30 sleeper-linked child deaths. In their view, they claimed that the customers were not using the device properly. Specifically, they claimed that customers had failed to properly strap their children in or had put additional items in the sleeper along with the infant. Never mind that Fisher-Price’s previous marketing campaign included phrases such as “baby can sleep at a comfy incline all night long”, which directly contradicts pediatricians’ suggestion that children should sleep on their backs and without restraints.
Claims Of Hesitation
Consumer rights advocates also hit Fisher-Price with accusations of waiting too long to initiate a recall. They pointed out how the first sleeper-related suffocations occurred years before the recall. Rather than doing anything, the groups claimed, the company sat back and relied on government-issued warnings. Meanwhile, their marketing campaigns continued unabated.
Responding to these accusations, Fisher-Price claimed that their products consistently met all necessary regulations within the United States. Further, the company claimed that each sleeper included “very specific and conspicuous product usage instructions and warnings that we urged parents and caregivers to read and follow carefully.”
Class Action Lawsuits
Combined, the infant deaths, Fischer-Price’s marketing campaign, and the company’s alleged inaction resulted in a slew of class-action lawsuits. One suit in particular involves Samantha Drover-Mundy and Zachary Mundy, whose 12-week-old child died after spending a short amount of time in a Rock ’n Play. The pair sued Fisher-Price, their parent company Mattel, and Amazon for promoting marketing copy that touted “dangerous features as selling points.” Additionally, the Mundy’s claim Fisher-Price lobbied the government to sidestep various regulations that would have otherwise resulted in the sleeper’s removal from the market.
Reports Of Sleeper-Related Injuries Have Been Pouring In Since 2005
Sleepers function by propping infants up in a specific position. The manufacturer, along with many parents, claims that this helps with babies’ tempers and general discontent. However, despite claims to the contrary, Consumer Reports says they received more than 675 reports from 2005 and on describing sleeper-related injuries in children. Prior to 2018, the sleepers saw approximately 8 recalls, which amplified concerns about children being critically injured.
Nearly 7 years later, in 2012, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning that instructed consumers to refrain from placing their babies in sleepers. However, at that point in time there had been around 13 sleeper-related deaths. According to the AAP, each year just under 4,000 infants die in the United States as a result of sleeper-related injuries. However, a slew of awareness campaigns throughout the 1990s resulted in much lower mortality rates.
Specifically, the AAP mentioned the dangers of products that keep the infant restrained, stuck in an inclined position, or both. As mentioned earlier, they have instructed consumers to let infants sleep on their backs on a flat surface without the soft bedding that usually lines the interior of sleepers. However, it is plain to see that the Rock ’n Play, released in 2009, never adhered to these guidelines in the first place.
Boasting a $40 price tag, the Rock ’n Play was an obvious choice for many sleep deprived parents looking for a thorough night’s rest. For some, the problem was so severe that they were chronically missing work just to catch some extra sleep.
However, many pediatricians noticed that infants who spent prolonged amounts of time in sleepers were experiencing a condition called torticollis, where the head twists to one side or the other as a result of excessive strain. On the other hand, some pediatricians claimed it was responsible for flat spots in babies’ skulls. Still, others were claiming that the sleepers were developing a dangerous mold that could cause respiratory problems. This latter claim prompted the recall of nearly 800,000 sleepers in 2013.
As some have likely inferred, all of this occurred in the midst of the Consumer Reports study that associated 32 infant deaths with the Rock ’n Play. One complaint in particular mentioned a child who fell from one of the sleepers despite being properly restrained, while another addressed a child who had died as a result of rolling over in theirs. Despite warnings, which prompted officials in Australia and Canada to ban the product from being sold, the United States allowed the product to remain on the market, where it continued to sell very well.
Still, some have continued to swear by the product. Actor and blogger Stuart Brazell sings its praises, touting its exceptional quality along with the fact that she has used it to harness her son for over a year. Brazell had signed up to be a part of Fisher-Price’s influencer campaign, specifically designed to advertise the Rock ’n Play to consumers via social media channels such as Instagram and Facebook. She claims she was given very specific instructions that had to be adhered to, including ensuring her child was properly harnessed and that the product was placed on a flat surface. Fisher-Price also insisted on approving the image prior to its being made public.
However, it is important to note that Brazell has recently changed her tune. She stopped using the product when her child, now 9 months old, began to roll over. Now, she claims that if she had a second child she would be completely unsure of what to do.
If you and your family have been affected by issues associated with the Rock ’n Play, Cowper Law is ready to help. We understand that dealing with this can seem impossible and overwhelming, which is why we are here to help in any way we can. We will provide the representation you need and strive for the best outcome possible. Give us a call at 877.LAW.3707 or visit our website to schedule a consultation.