A seven-year fight by a New Jersey mom whose infant suffocated to death in a soft-sided play yard has ended with a new federal safety rule that will help ensure that mattresses used by babies in play yards and cribs are safe.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is aware of at least 494 incidents, including 139 fatalities and 355 nonfatal incidents related to crib mattresses, which occurred between January 2010 and April 2021. The hazard patterns associated with crib mattresses include design-related issues and compression of the mattress, resulting in asphyxiation or suffocation.
The rule, approved by the CPSC on January 26, 2022, requires that by the fall of 2022, crib mattresses and after-market mattresses meet a new federal safety standard that seeks to reduce the rate of injury related to:
— Full-size crib mattresses — due to poor mattress fit from compression by sheets. — After-market, non-full-size crib mattresses — due to sizing.
Notably, the rule bans supplement mattresses, which are intended to be added to non-rigid mesh play yards. These mattresses are thicker than the standard mattresses sold with play yards and are advertised to parents for their ability to make babies more comfortable. The problem with supplemental mattresses is that the higher up a baby is raised, the greater the danger that the baby’s face will become wedged in a gap between the supplemental mattress and the soft mesh sides of a play yard, causing the baby to suffocate.
Pursuant to the new rule, any mattress sold for use in a play yard must meet the same requirements as the original mattress. The rule also requires improved marking, labeling and instructional literature to better communicate to consumers about safe sleep practices, and addresses suffocation risks related to infant positioning, soft bedding and gap entrapment.
A New Jersey mom whose four-and-a-half months old son suffocated to death in 2000 in a play yard while sleeping on a supplemental mattress played a pivotal role in getting the new rule passed. According to media reports, she purchased the supplemental mattress because it was advertised as suitable for her child’s play yard. The fact that supplemental mattresses were sold next to play yards also gave the mom a false impression that they were safe to be used together. After her child’s death, she founded the nonprofit advocacy group, Keeping Babies Safe, which petitioned the CPSC in 2015 for a ban on supplemental mattresses for play yards with non-rigid sides. The new safety rule stems from that petition.
Previously, Keeping Babies Safe successfully advocated for placing mandatory warning labels regarding mattress safety on play yards and convinced many retailers to stop selling supplemental mattresses, according to news reports.
As the new CPSC rule is not retroactive to infant mattresses already purchased by consumers, an untold number of unsafe mattresses will remain in use in people’s homes and childcare centers even after it takes effect.
Alan M. Feldman, a co-founding partner and product liability attorney at Feldman Shepherd, recommends contacting a product liability attorney as soon as possible if your child has been injured by an unsafe crib or play yard mattress.
Feldman said that even before the mandatory safety standard was adopted, product liability law has always required all products to be safe for their intended as well as expected use, and that the absence of a mandatory safety standard does not excuse manufacturers from legal liability for unsafe infant mattresses. He continued:
“Thanks to the efforts of concerned parents, safety organizations and the Consumer Products Safety Commission, a new mandatory rule to improve the safety of crib mattresses is about to become law. We are grateful to all those who recognized the importance of a mandatory standard for keeping infants safe in their cribs and play yards.”
Feldman’s team at Feldman Shepherd, which includes partners Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis, have secured substantial recoveries on behalf of infants and young children who have been seriously injured or killed by children’s products, including baby slings, unstable furniture and magnetic toys. The team presently represents in excess of 10 families who lost infants when they asphyxiated while using inclined sleepers.
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