In a momentous step forward for infant safety, e-commerce titans Amazon and eBay announced on December 4, 2019 that they are banning the sale of all inclined infant sleepers on their platforms. Walmart and Buy Buy Baby quickly followed with commitments that they too would pull inclined sleepers from their stores and websites.
The news is the latest blow for a product that many parents use to allow babies to sleep out of a crib or bassinet, but unbeknownst to them, puts their child at risk for death by asphyxiation and/or suffocation.
Why Are Inclined Sleepers Dangerous?
Use of the sleepers has been warned against by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has stated that “there is no such thing as a safe inclined sleeper for babies.” According to the Academy, infants should be put to sleep on their backs, on a separate, flat and firm sleep surface without any bumpers, loose bedding or stuffed toys. Despite this clear and unambiguous warning, inclined sleepers position babies at angles as much as 30 degrees, where they can get into a chin-to-chest position in which their airway is blocked. Infants have also rolled on to their stomachs while using inclined sleepers, and asphyxiated as a result.
According to a new study commissioned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), inclined sleepers have been linked to 73 infant deaths and more than 1,000 incidents from January 2005 to June 2019.
Which Inclined Sleepers Have Been Recalled?
To date, there have been four recalls by three infant product manufacturers involving more than five million inclined sleepers:
On Nov. 4, 2019, Marta L. Tellado, President and CEO of Consumer Reports, sent letters to multiple infant product manufacturers — including big names such as Mattel, Graco, Evenflo, Baby Delight and others — asking that they recall their inclined infant sleepers. To date, there have been no additional recalls following Tellado’s letter-writing campaign.
Are Inclined Sleepers Safety-Tested by the U.S. Government before They Are Sold?
Many consumers are shocked to learn that there is no government agency charged with safety-testing children’s products — or most other products, for that matter — before they are brought to market. The federal government, however, can play an important role in removing dangerous products that are already in the marketplace and in use by unsuspecting consumers.
In October, the CPSC proposed limiting the seat back angle for products intended for infant sleep to 10 degrees or less. If enacted, the new regulation would essentially ban inclined sleep products by requiring that all future sleepers meet the same standards as bassinets. The proposed rule will be open for public comment until January 27, 2020.
Also, on June 10, 2019, U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Ca., introduced the Safe Sleep for Babies Act, which would prohibit the sale of inclined sleepers with an inclined surface of greater than 10 degrees that is intended, marketed, or designed to provide sleeping accommodations for infants up to one year old. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Alan Feldman, a product liability attorney and co-founding partner at Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock Dodig LLP, said it is a shameful day for baby product manufacturers when retailers must step in — in conjunction with the CPSC and lawmakers — to protect infants from dangerous products that they refuse to recall.
“The companies that design and sell baby products have an absolute obligation to make sure their products are safe and will not pose a risk to the health and well-being of the infants using them. There can be no exceptions to this rule. If a manufacturer can’t state with assurance that its product is safe for its intended use, it should not be sold. Period.”
Alan Feldman’s team at Feldman Shepherd, which includes partners Daniel Mann and Edward Goldis, is currently representing a family who lost their three-year-old son due to the defective design of a Chicco inclined sleeper. They have also represented many families who lost children to asphyxiation-related injuries.
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