Class action lawsuits have been filed in New York State against infant rocker manufacturer Fisher-Price and its parent company Mattel, alleging negligence, and that their product, Rock n Play, caused avoidable deaths amongst infants over the period the product was on sale.
Fisher Price withdrew the product from sale in April this year after growing awareness and anger about the dangers of their product. 4.3 million Rock N Play devices were recalled, with a further 700,000 similar infant sleeper products manufactured by a different company, Kids II, recalled soon afterwards.
Fisher-Price’s Rock N Play and Kids II’s rockers were marketed as devices which helped babies and infants to sleep while giving relief to parents who thought that they could also sleep, relying on the information provided with the rockers.
Rock N Play was first released on to the market in 2009. There were 10 deaths recorded in the period 2015 and 2018, mostly from infants rolling over and suffocating as they were unable to breathe in the position they rolled on to. Fisher-Price put out a warning telling parents not to use Rock N Play with any infant that was capable of rollovers. However, it was noted that 32 more infants died after the warning, up to the point that the recall was ordered, yet the company did not do anything about the design of its rockers or acknowledge that they were potentially unsafe.
Kids II recalled its product soon after Fisher-Price. Their rocker design was similar to Rock N Play. 5 infants have died between 2012 and 2019 while using the Kids II rocker while not restrained.
How the baby rocker recall took place
It might be noted that Fisher-Price did not recall its allegedly defective product without some coercion. If it wasn’t for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urging the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to force Fisher-Price to recall the rockers and stop the sale of any more there might have been more babies dying. The AAP called for the recall on April 9th, this year. The recall was made 3 days later.
Despite the millions of devices recalled and the 42 deaths which are alleged to have been caused by the use of the device, parent company Mattel still refuses to admit that Fisher-Price is liable for the deaths. It claims instead that parents did not follow safety instructions carefully enough. One of the safety instructions that accompany the Rock N Play does say that parents should not use the device when their baby has reached 3 months old, or is capable of rolling over by themselves. However, some of the deaths recorded have been babies aged under 3 months and parents involved say they followed all other instructions.
AAP recommendations for parents of babies and infants
The AAP recommends that babies should be placed on their backs on a flat, firm surface and not put in a situation where they can be suffocated by extra bedding or material such as stuffed toys, pillows and blankets. The AAP say that Fisher-Price’s device was defective because it allowed babies to roll over on to their stomachs in a position that they were unable to do anything about and in danger of suffocating or being strangled.
In Canada, Rock N Play was reclassified as a ‘soother’ rather than a ‘sleeper’ as marketed by Fisher-Price. This was apparently because Canada has stricter guidelines for baby products than the U.S.
One of the attractions of devices like Rock N Play and the Kids II device is that it is marketed as something that can put babies to sleep safely while allowing parents to get some much needed sleep themselves. The AAP and other parenting organizations emphasize that expecting to have a full night’s sleep while relying on a device to keep a baby from waking up is unrealistic and intrinsically unsafe.
Class action lawsuits against baby rocker manufacturers have begun in Buffalo, N.Y.
The first two class action lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. federal district court in Buffalo, where Fisher-Price’s headquarters are located. The two class action lawsuits have been filed independently by two couples whose babies have died while using Rock N Play rockers. One of the couples has named Fisher-Price, Mattel and Amazon.com as co-defendants. Amazon was the distributor of the product they used with their child.
Both couples allege that Fisher-Price and Mattel engaged in dangerously misleading marketing, and that they had developed a device that could lead to permanent injuries such as plagiocephaly (flat head) because of the inclination inside the rocker. They also allege that the companies ignored the AAP’s recommendations for safe baby accommodation and attempted to influence the CPSC to avoid them having to remove their product from the market.