A father and son tandem of plaintiffs allege in a proposed class action lawsuit that Pottery Barn and parent company Williams-Sonoma have “ignor[ed] documented safety concerns” and continue to sell baby crib bumpers as “safe crib accessories” despite numerous reports of infant injuries and deaths.
Filed in the Northern District of Oklahoma, the 21-page lawsuit charges that the high-end retailers—despite myriad complaints, warnings from consumer groups, bans in two states, and a lawsuit against Walmart over a death linked to the same product—have “continuously” marketed and sold their dangerous baby crib bumpers to unsuspecting parents while failing to disclose that they expose infants to a significant risk of injury or death.
The lawsuit begins by explaining that while baby crib bumpers were once a well-worn solution for parents worried about their infant’s safety while sleeping, it’s far from new knowledge today that bumpers are unsafe and cannot be relied upon to keep an infant safe and sound inside a crib.
The complaint states that baby bumpers were potentially involved in “at least 77 infant deaths and at least 25 non-fatal injuries” between 1985 and 2012. A number of those infant deaths, according to the case, were linked to suffocation on a crib bumper itself or strangulation from the ties that hold a bumper to a crib. The risk to infants posed by crib bumpers is concerning enough that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have recommended that parents stay clear of using bumpers in their children’s cribs, the lawsuit continues. Further, the Journal of Pediatrics went on record as far back as 2007 in stating bumpers are “extremely unsafe” and can lead to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
In the face of such distressing red flags and open concern from doctors and the federal government, not to mention lawsuits against at least one other household-name retailer for selling the very same type of product, Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma, the lawsuit alleges, have continued to sell baby crib bumpers as an ostensibly safe accessory suitable for use around a sleeping infant.
Data Leads Cities, States to Ban Baby Bumpers
Front and center in the lawsuit is data that the plaintiffs argue undoubtedly highlights dangers associated with baby crib bumpers. The case cites a study of the CPSC’s database of crib-related injuries, published in 2007 in the Journal of Pediatrics, that reviewed infant deaths related to crib bumpers between 1985 and 2005 and found that 27 accidental deaths were reported by medical examiners or coroners as directly linked to the product. Further, the same study, the case says, found that 25 nonfatal injuries sustained by infants were caused by crib bumper pads. The authors of the study, according to the complaint, “concluded that all retail bumpers had hazardous properties” and that the product simply should not be used.
Notably, the lawsuit stresses that the Journal of Pediatrics study focused only on incidents of infant injury that were reported to the CPSC, with the authors conceding that the numbers to which they had access may not have told the whole story.
“The authors of the study noted that since the deaths they studied were voluntarily reported to the CPSA, ‘[t]hese cases represent an unknown fraction of total occurrences,’” the complaint reads.
In February 2016, the lawsuit goes on, the authors of the 2007 study published a new report centered on infant deaths in the CPSC’s database from between January 1985 and October 2012. According to the suit, the authors found that three times more deaths were attributed to crib baby bumpers in the previous seven years than had occurred in “the three previous time periods.” Further, the study concluded that bumpers were responsible for “48 suffocations, 67% by bumper alone, and 33% by wedgings between a bumper and another object,” the case says.
After comparing the number of deaths reported to the CPSC with those reported to the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths from 2008-2011, the authors found that 77 total infant deaths were attributed to baby crib bumpers, according to the lawsuit, again noting that it’s likely that more deaths had occurred than had been reported.
According to the complaint, the data linking infant deaths to crib bumpers is so evident that Chicago, Maryland and Ohio have banned the product amidst “fervent objections from retailers and manufacturers” who continue their efforts to “deceive potential buyers” as to the safety of the product. From the complaint:
These retailers and manufacturers, including Defendants, have made great efforts to deceive potential buyers of Bumpers by downplaying and/or discrediting the studies linking Bumpers and infant deaths. The retailers and manufacturers, including Defendants, have also deceived purchasers of Bumpers by engaging in misleading marketing campaigns and displaying deceptive and/or false labels on Bumpers that portray them as being not only free of risk of harm, but also as products that actively improve the safety of the infant.”
No Returns for Baby Crib Bumpers, Plaintiffs Say
One lead plaintiff claims he purchased in 2019 a set of crib bumpers from Pottery Barn for Kids for his son, the second named plaintiff, whose wife was at the time pregnant with their second child. The plaintiff’s son claims he and his wife attempted to install the bumpers on a crib only to run into trouble keeping the product attached properly. According to the lawsuit, when the plaintiff attempted to bring the crib bumpers back to the store, Pottery Barn Kids would not accept his return. As the lawsuit tells it, the plaintiff’s father was “induced” into buying the baby crib bumpers due in part to Pottery Barn’s marketing of the product as a safe crib accessory meant to protect babies while they sleep.
Who’s Covered by this Lawsuit?
The plaintiffs look to certify a class of consumers across the United States who bought or owned any crib bumper pads made or sold by Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn or Pottery Barn Kids at any time between 2008 and the present.