Parents of 2-year-old crushed by dresser file wrongful death lawsuit

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by Eric Pearson

Every two weeks a child dies when a piece of furniture or a television falls on him or her, according the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. Industry standards require that TV stands, chests, bureaus and dressers pass a stability test. If a piece of furniture violates these standards, the product can be subject to a safety recall.

A Barrington, Illinois family recently filed suit against a furniture maker after a dresser fell on top of their two-year-old son, killing him. Shane Siefert, 2, suffered head trauma and died from suffocation after the dresser tipped over and crushed him in the family’s home in 2011. The lawsuit was brought against Gemme Juvenile Inc, the maker of the dresser, and the now-closed Illinois store Furniture Kidz.

According to the lawsuit, no warnings or instructions were given to help prevent a tip-over. The suit argues that the child’s dresser should have had an “anchoring strap” in place, or some other system that would ensure that the dresser wouldn’t tip over.

The dresser, the “Natart Chelsea 3-drawer dressers” have now been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Gemme Juvenile is now supplying the owners of these dressers with a “free retrofit kit” that includes a safety strap to secure the dresser to a wall

According to the CPSC, when the dresser drawers are pulled all the way out and then the additional weight of a young child is applied, the dresser’s center of gravity can be altered and result in instability of the product, which can consequently tip over. A child can become injured in the fall or suffocate under the weight of the fallen dresser.

The recall involves the Chelsea three-drawer windowed dresser bearing model number 3033. The dressers were sold in five finishes: Cappuccino, Cappuccino with a brown top, Ebony, Ebony with a brown top, and Antique or French White. A sticker with the word “Natart” and the firm’s logo is affixed to the inside of the top drawer. In addition, most dressers will have the model number, “Natart Juvenile,” “Made in Canada” and “Chelsea 3 Drawer Dresser” printed on another label located on the back of the dresser. The dressers were sold at Furniture Kidz and other independent juvenile specialty stores and at Baby.com from January 2005 to December 2010 for between $600 and $900.

The CPSC has also recently announced a voluntary recall by Bexco Enterprises Inc., dba Million Dollar Baby of Montebello, Calif. of 18,000 children’s four-drawer dressers. According to the recall, when a young child climbs up on open dresser drawers, the dresser becomes unstable and poses the risk of tip over and entrapment. CPSC and Million Dollar Baby have received two reports of deaths associated with these dressers. An 11-month-old boy from Tulsa, Okla. and a 20-month-old girl from Camarillo, Calif. were reported to have suffocated when their dressers tipped over, entrapping them between the dresser and the floor. The cause of the deaths has not been determined.

This voluntary recall involves “Emily” style four-drawer dressers with model numbers M4712, M4722, M4732 and M4742 and similar “Ryan” dressers with the model M4733. The dressers were sold in five finishes: Cherry, Ebony, Espresso, Honey Oak and White. The model number, “Million Dollar Baby” and “MADE IN TAIWAN” are printed on a label located on the back of the dresser. The recalled dressers were sold at JC Penney and independent juvenile specialty stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, BabiesRUs.com, BabyUniverse.com and other online retailers from January 2006 through June 2010 for between $230 and $300.

The CPSC has reported that 349 consumers (84 percent of them were children younger than age 9) were killed between 2000 and 2011, when TVs, furniture or appliances toppled over onto them. Based on data available to date, 2011 had the highest one-year number of fatalities reported. The 41 recorded fatalities in 2011 was an increase from 31 in 2010 and 27 in 2009. This total also may increase in future years as additional fatalities are reported.

CPSC estimates that more than 43,000 consumers are injured each year in tip-over incidents. More than 25,000 (59 percent) of those injuries are to children under the age of 18. Falling furniture accounts for more than half (52 percent) of the injury reports. Falling televisions have proven to be more deadly, as they are associated with more than half (62 percent) of reported fatalities.

Small children are no match for a falling dresser, wall unit or 50- to 100-pound television. Children involved in these tip-over incidents often sustain severe head and other injuries to the body as a result of being crushed by the product or trapped under its weight. In 57 percent of the reported fatalities and 39 percent of injuries, the victim was struck in the head by the falling item.

Since 2000, the furniture industry has been guided by a succession of voluntary stability standards for dressers and other wardrobe storage units. The current standard, in effect since in 2009, calls for furniture to remain steady when all drawers are open and when a 50-pound weight is placed at the front of a drawer. That is meant to simulate a child around the age of 5 attempting to climb on furniture.

Members of a panel including CPSC and industry officials, along with consumer advocates, are in the early stages of considering whether, and how, to toughen the standard once again. Some experts, however, question whether a tougher “voluntary” standard would do much good. A significant problem is that companies are free to simply ignore “voluntary” standards. In addition, the ideas currently under consideration would continue to exempt items without drawers that children can climb on, such as tables and bookcases.

When companies are willing to ignore industry standards and thus unreasonably put the lives of children at risk, it can take a lawsuit to make such companies change their ways. To successfully bring a personal injury or wrongful death claim on behalf of a child, clients need an experienced, educated attorney on their side. They also need an attorney with the financial resources to take the case to trial. At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we are proud of the work we have done on behalf children who have been unfortunately injured as a result of the negligence of others.

For example, a $36 million jury verdict for a child who suffered brain damage and other serious injuries in a bus crash on the way to church camp, $6.7 million in a personal injury lawsuit against the United States for medical errors at a VA hospital, which caused permanent brain damage to an 8-year-old child, and a $2.2 million jury verdict in personal injury lawsuit involving improper discharge of a newborn from the hospital with low glucose levels, resulting in moderate brain damage.

If your child has suffered a serious personal injury or death, contact Heygood, Orr & Pearson for your free case evaluation and to learn more about your legal right to compensation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free contact form located on this page.