- After her toddler son died in an accident involving an IKEA dresser, Crystal Ellis became an advocate for child product safety.
- Ellis and product safety attorney Dan Mann spoke about the lax environment around consumer protection at a Kids in Danger video conference on July 16.
- “Parents believe that anything in the marketplace has been tested and vetted by the government,” Ellis said. “It’s sad that that’s not true.”
- An IKEA spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement that the company commends Ellis and other advocates’ efforts to “raise awareness about tip-over prevention.”
- “IKEA is committed to helping move the entire industry ahead when it comes to product safety,” the spokesperson said in a statement sent to Business Insider.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On the morning of June 11, 2014, Crystal Ellis checked on her son Camden before dawn, finding him safe and asleep. Two days away from his third birthday, Camden had just spent his second night in his “big boy” bed.
Later that morning, Ellis set about feeding her newborn daughter while her husband Charles went upstairs to wake Camden for breakfast. But when Charles entered the toddler’s room, he found the boy pinned under a three-drawer IKEA Malm dresser. Camden was rushed to a hospital, where he lingered on a ventilator for four days. Two days after his birthday, Camden’s parents removed their son from life support.
Since losing Camden, Ellis has become an advocate for child product safety, founding the Parents Against Tip-Overs network and joining a lawsuit against IKEA. In conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, IKEA voluntarily recalled 17.3 million dressers in 2016. A company spokesperson said that 1.54 million chests of drawers “have been addressed through the recall.” Wall attachment kits have been applied to 1,080,956 Malm drawers, while 448,082 have been refunded.
“Please keep in mind that many consumers may have chosen not to participate in the recall if their dressers were already attached to the wall in accordance with the assembly instructions or if they no longer had the product in their home,” the spokesperson said.
Ellis described losing her son at a Kids in Danger virtual conversation on July 16 with KID Board President Shawn Kasserman and Dan Mann, an attorney who represented Ellis and other parents against IKEA. In 2016, Mann’s law firm Feldman Shepherd secured a settlement of $US50 million for three families who lost children in accidents involving IKEA dressers. As of 2020, the deaths of 10 children have been linked to IKEA dressers.
An IKEA spokesperson told Business Insider that the company wanted to “express our deepest condolences to the Ellis family and everyone who has been impacted by this tragedy.”
“We respect the work that Mrs. Ellis and the safety advocates are doing to raise awareness about tip-over prevention,” the spokesperson added. “As a leader in the industry, we share in the responsibility to educate consumers on the dangers of furniture tip-over, and we remain committed to creating safe homes for families.”
But Ellis and Mann said that these tragic accidents go beyond issues with certain products or companies. They argue that two to three children will continue to die every month in preventable tip-over accidents due to the United States’ lax stance on consumer protection. According to CPSC estimates, furniture tip-over accidents have resulted in the deaths of 459 children in the United States since 2000.
“Corporations cannot regulate themselves, it’s just against what they are,” Ellis said. “The only things that affect corporations are lawsuits, public shaming, and government regulations.”
Deaths in ‘baby-proofed homes’
Visiting the parents of children killed by IKEA furniture, Mann said that he encountered “baby-proofed homes” and parents shocked that popular nursery items could turn deadly. His law firm began investigating the issue of IKEA tip-overs after the death of two-year-old Curren Collas who died after a Malm dresser from IKEA fell over on him on the morning of February 25, 2014. His death was the first widely publicized case involving a toddler dying in a Malm tip-over incident.
The attorney found that IKEA dressers were seen as safe due to their lightweight design. Ellis’ son was taller than the dresser that killed him. But Mann said that sense of safety was an illusion.
Mann said that, in the case of IKEA, the company “made a conscious decision to not test their dressers to the performance requirements” set by the industry at the time.
In response, the spokesperson for IKEA directed Business Insider to a recall page and wrote, “This recall reannouncement involves MALM and other IKEA chests and dressers that do not comply with the requirements of the U.S. voluntary industry standard.”
According to Mann, IKEA eventually took the position that consumers should “anchor the dresser to the wall,” although the company did not initially supply anchoring hardware. Ellis and Mann said that the testing around anchoring itself can be dicey. USA Today reported that toddler twins escaped being crushed by an anchored Malm dresser in June.
“The great tragedy here is that there are millions and millions of these units still out in the market and they need to get out of the marketplace,” Mann said.
An IKEA spokesperson told Business Insider that the company has invested millions “in ongoing communication about both the recall and tip-over prevention through a number of different channels, including IKEA.com, paid advertising, social media channels, email and press outreach.”
“The recall is still communicated on the homepage of our website, which had 327 million visits last year,” an IKEA spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement. “To date, IKEA has sent over 16.7 million emails regarding the recall to its customers, including IKEA Family loyalty program members.”
‘I had no idea’
An IKEA spokesperson told Business Insider that the furniture giant “is committed to helping move the entire industry ahead when it comes to product safety.”
Both Ellis and Mann said that the problem with child product safety goes far beyond the Swedish furniture retailer.
“This is not just an IKEA problem,” Ellis said. “This is an industry-wide problem.”
During the KID videoconference, both speakers described navigating a legal landscape in which corporations are left to regulate themselves. The Consumer Product Safety Commission – a federal agency dedicated to promoting the safety of consumer products – is currently unable to demand mandatory recalls or even publicise the dangers of specific products without a company’s permission.
“The CPSC does a lot of good work but in some ways, they are a toothless tiger,” Mann said.
He cited the case of the Fischer-Price Rock N’ Play sleeper. According to an investigation from Consumer Reports, the CPSC was aware of around 73 child deaths linked to the product but was unable to act upon that information.
Even in cases where a voluntary recall happens, the lawyer said that companies rarely put the resources into educating consumers about a product recall as they do marketing the unsafe product in the first place.
“The last thing that I want to be doing is sitting in a parent’s living room saying, ‘This product has been recalled,'” Mann said. “And they saying, ‘I had no idea.'”
‘A record of killing children’
For her part, Ellis said that she believes that there are not only plenty of “products in American homes that could kill your child,” but that many of them “have a record of killing children” that has never seen the light of day.
“There will likely be other toddlers that lose their lives,” Mann said. “And, sitting here, we know that it’s going to happen.”
As an advocate for child product safety, Ellis said she supports the effort of US Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, whose “Safety Hazard and Recall Efficiency (SHARE) Information Act” would un-muzzle the CPSC from directly warning the public of the dangers of certain products.
She also called on companies to do more to avoid littering the market with deadly products.
“Care about your consumers. Pull it. Test it again,” Ellis said. She added that if a product is made dangerous by consumer error – such as a toddler pulling at a drawer – manufacturers should account for that and “design a product that doesn’t have to be anchored to the wall” to be safe.
Moreover, Ellis said that consumer culture must change.
“Parents believe that anything in the marketplace has been tested and vetted by the government,” Ellis said. “It’s sad that that’s not true.”
Read IKEA’s full statement here:
First, we want to once again express our deepest condolences to the Ellis family and everyone who has been impacted by this tragedy. We respect the work that Mrs. Ellis and the safety advocates are doing to raise awareness about tip-over prevention. Tip-over is a serious issue for the entire furniture industry, not just IKEA. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), every 12 days someone dies when a television, a piece of furniture or an appliance falls on them, and 459 children have died from tip-over incidents since 2000 in the United States. As a leader in the industry, we share in the responsibility to educate consumers on the dangers of furniture tip-over, and we remain committed to creating safe homes for families.
IKEA has for decades provided tip-over restraints with all chests of drawers over a certain height. Warnings about the importance of using the restraints are included in the assembly instructions and accompanied by step by step instructions for their use. Where wall attachment is required, this is communicated on the price tag on display units, in IKEA store signage, and with online product information. IKEA has also been working to raise the awareness of the importance of securing furniture to the wall through our ongoing Secure It! Campaign.
Since announcing the 2016 chest of drawers recall in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), we’ve been investing millions of dollars in ongoing communication about both the recall and tip-over prevention through a number of different channels, including IKEA.com, paid advertising, social media channels, email and press outreach. The recall is still communicated on the homepage of our website, which had 327 million visits last year. To date, IKEA has sent over 16.7 million emails regarding the recall to its customers, including IKEA Family loyalty program members.
As a result, more than 1.54M chest of drawers have been addressed through the recall-1,080,956 through wall attachment kits and 448,082 through refunds. Please keep in mind that many consumers may have chosen not to participate in the recall if their dressers were already attached to the wall in accordance with the assembly instructions or if they no longer had the product in their home.
IKEA also continues to educate consumers on the dangers of furniture tip-overs and how to prevent them, including through the recent launch of the IKEA Safer Homes app, safety workshops in our stores in November, and mandatory Safer Homes training for all our co-workers. Additionally, we recently introduced a new process in our stores and online that reinforces the importance of wall attachment and encourages customers to enter their contact information prior to purchasing any chest of drawers. This will also allow us to more efficiently communicate important information regarding product updates and recalls to customers who have purchased the product.
IKEA is committed to helping move the entire industry ahead when it comes to product safety. In addition to the new app and ongoing communication efforts, the company has continued to invest in product development and testing, leading to innovative solutions to further enhance safe use.
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