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Dangerous Drop-Side Cribs Have Killed At Least 32, CPSC Says

May 10, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has again issued a warning about the dangers of drop-side cribs. According to the agency, it is aware of 32 infant and toddler suffocation and strangulation deaths and hundreds of incidents that were caused by or related to drop-side detachments in cribs made by various manufacturers since January 2000.

In the last five years, the CPSC has announced 11 recalls involving more than 7 million drop-side cribs due to suffocation and strangulation hazards created by the drop side. In a statement, the agency also said staff is actively investigating several other crib manufacturers for potential drop-side hazards as part of a larger effort to rid the marketplace and homes of unsafe cribs. The CPSC said it will continue to take aggressive action to address any risks and will keep the public informed.

The agency also said it is working on implementing new and vastly improved mandatory federal standard for cribs this year. The standard will incorporate, at minimum, the new voluntary industry standard banning drop-side cribs from the U.S. market. Due to the new voluntary industry standard, many manufacturers have already stopped selling drop-side cribs or will do so beginning June 1, 2010.

Of the 32 deaths that were analyzed by CPSC staff, some occurred in cribs where the drop side detached without caregivers noticing the detachment, while some other deaths occurred after a consumer tried to repair the detached drop side, but the repair ultimately failed. In other incidents, consumers unknowingly installed the drop side or drop-side hardware incorrectly. In several cases, this occurred due to incorrect or confusing directions. In these incidents, the drop side still appeared to function as intended, but the stress on the crib hardware resulted in the drop-side detachment.

In addition to the 32 deaths the CPSC staff associated with the drop-side detachments, the agency said there have an additional 14 reports of infant fatalities due to entrapment in cribs that could be related to a drop side. The information obtained was insufficient for staff to conclusively determine whether or not the drop side was involved.

According to the CPSC warning, its technical staff has determined drop-side cribs generally have a tendency to be less structurally sound than cribs with four fixed sides. Drop-side hardware is prone to break, deform or experience other problems during normal or foreseeable use. The older the crib, the more problems can be expected. When drop-side hardware breaks or deforms, the drop side can detach in one or more corners from the crib. If an infant or toddler rolls or moves into the space created by a partially detached drop side, the child can become entrapped or wedged between the crib mattress and the drop side and suffocate. Infants can also strangle in the “V” shape formed by a drop side that detaches in an upper corner.

While the CPSC could not say that every drop-side crib is hazardous, based on investigations of incidents the agency’s received, it believes that overall most drop-side cribs are more prone to mechanical failure than similar designed fixed-side cribs. In addition, older cribs may not meet current voluntary standards. Factors that contribute to safety problems in older cribs include:

• The longer a crib is used, the more wear and tear on hardware and joints, allowing screws to loosen and fall out and plastic parts to flex and break.

• Repeated assembly and disassembly increases likelihood that crib parts can be damaged or lost.

• Wood warps and shrinks over time and glue can become brittle. This can lead to joint and slat failures.

The CPSC is reminding parents not to use any crib with missing, broken, or loose parts. Make sure to tighten hardware from time to time to keep the crib sturdy. When using a drop-side crib, parents should check to make sure the drop side or any other moving part operates smoothly. Always check all sides and corners of the crib for disengagement. Disengagements can create a gap and entrap a child. In addition, do not try to repair any side of the crib. Babies have died in cribs where repairs were attempted by caregivers, the CPSC said.

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