New parents are always looking for a place to rest their tired babies’ heads. The market is always full of bed and baby lounger options promising to give babies a safe and restful sleep. Unfortunately, the news is equally filled with stories of product recalls and reports of babies suffocating in the same beds.
Parents want their babies to be perfectly safe, and the best way for an infant to sleep is always on their back in a bare crib until they are strong enough to roll over and raise their head without assistance. That does not mean all those loungers and bassinets are unsafe, but some have been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Parents need to exercise caution when purchasing these items.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Risk Factors
SIDS is an otherwise healthy baby's mysterious and unexplained death, usually when the child is asleep. SIDS used to be called crib death” because the baby would be found in their crib. The exact cause of SIDS remains unknown, but researchers believe a defect in some infants’ brains may make it difficult for them to control their breathing.
Factors associated with SIDS include premature birth or multiple births. These infants’ brains may not have fully matured, and this increases the chances that the areas that control breathing and sleep arousal are not yet functioning. When these babies fall too deeply asleep, they lack the ability to wake themselves up.
Although parents cannot control their infant’s brain maturity, they can manage the environmental factors that may increase the risk of SIDS. These include:
- Sleeping on their stomach or side. These positions can make it more difficult for an infant to breathe.
- Soft surfaces in the bed. Face down on a soft mattress, a waterbed, or a fluffy pillow can block an infant’s airway.
- Being too warm can increase the risk of SIDS, as can sharing the bed with siblings or pets.
These factors vary from child to child, and once a baby is mature enough to roll over and lift their head, at about six months of age, the greatest risk of SIDS has passed. However, a baby is not completely free of the danger of SIDS for the first year of life.
The Infant Sleep Products Rule
In June 2022, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued the infant sleep products rule to eliminate unsafe infant sleeping products. The rule applies to any item for babies to sleep in sold in the U.S. after the effective date. Items not intended primarily for sleeping, such as car seats and playpens, are not subject to the rule.
Items subject to the rule must meet basic standards, including:
- Rigid sides with minimum spacing, high enough to prevent accidental falls (at least 7.5”).
- Stable base and a maximum allowance for products that swing or rock.
- Specified thickness and dimensions of the sleeping pad and joints allowed for segmented or folding pads.
- Maximum angle for a segmented mattress—cannot be greater than 10o.
- Prohibitions on small parts and lead paint.
Infant Loungers and Bassinets
Baby loungers are lozenge-shaped pillows with an indentation in the center where babies can be placed for nursing, playtime, and rest time. They are small and soft and can be transported and placed almost anywhere. As long as the baby and the parent are awake and alert, infant loungers are safe for babies to lie in.
However, this brief description shows that infant loungers don’t meet the CPSC’s infant sleep products rule. They don’t have high, rigid sides to prevent falls and usually don’t have a solid, stable base. Infant loungers are not meant for anything but a brief resting place for the baby.
A bassinet can be a small crib if it meets the requirements of a crib. It must still have high sides, a firm mattress, and a solid base. Babies will outgrow a bassinet quickly, but they can be helpful for parents who want the baby to stay in their room for the first few months.
Bassinets have the benefit of being portable, but they must not be so portable that they lose their safety qualities. The bassinet should not have drapes or padding around the hood or edges. Lavishly draped bassinets are a relic of Victorian days, but they have no place in today’s nursery.
The DockATot Deluxe+
The Swedish company DockATot created an infant lounger called DockATot designed for bed-sharing. In Europe, especially Scandinavia, it is common for infants to sleep with their parents for their first few months. The DockATot Deluxe was intended for infants sharing the bed with their parents, a procedure U.S. pediatricians do not recommend.
The DockATot Deluxe does not meet the current standards for an infant sleep product because it does not have a stable platform, does not have high rigid sides, and the soft materials pose a suffocation risk. At least three infants are known to have suffocated inside a DockATot in the three years before the item was banned in the U.S.
The makers of DockATot Deluxe insist the item is safe and was not intended for infant sleep purposes. Because of the new Infant Sleep Product Rule requirements, DockATot has discontinued its DockATot Deluxe+ products.
Hazards Associated with Infant Loungers
The DockATot safety warning went into effect in November of 2022. Although the manufacturer has ceased production of the item, there has not been any recall of the existing products. Also, the same hazards inherent in the DockATot Deluxe can exist in other infant loungers and baby chairs.
Parents must be aware that infant loungers and baby chairs are hazardous for infants who are unable to raise their heads on their own and who can roll over or fall unless they are protected. Other risks besides SIDS created by soft loungers can include:
- Positional asphyxia. This occurs when the infant’s small trachea is flexed forward or back by the padding in the lounger.
- Rebreathing carbon dioxide. Because of their small size, babies are vulnerable to excessive CO2 levels caused by their faces being pressed into the soft fabric.
- Reduced sleep arousal response. Loungers and sleep chairs are soft and simulate a “snuggling” sensation. Researchers believe this may put infants into a deep sleep and prevent them from waking easily if they have trouble breathing.
Close supervision may not be sufficient when an infant is in a lounger because oxygen deprivation or CO2 poisoning does not appear until it is too late for effective intervention.
Product Liability for Infant Injury
When an infant dies due to an improperly designed lounger or bed, it is a terrible tragedy. The Infant Sleep Product Rule and related Federal regulations attempt to reduce these tragedies by setting standards that manufacturers must meet according to what researchers learn about the causes of infant mortality.
Product liability can be a type of negligence claim, but it is also known as strict liability, meaning that intent or knowledge does not have to be proven. The manufacturer or producer of the item is required by law to make their product according to certain standards, so they are liable for any defect even if they did not intend harm to the users.
Proving Product Liability
There are three general types of product liability. Parents and attorneys bringing a wrongful death suit for an infant’s death should consider these carefully when deciding what applies best to the facts in their case.
Defective manufacture refers to a flaw in the manufacture or production of the product. For instance, a crib could be made with weak steel that causes one side to collapse. Defective manufacture usually applies to a single item or run of items in a product line.
Defective design means a product that was improperly designed for the use for which it was intended. A baby lounger that pushes an infant’s head forward or to the side would be a defective design. Defective design often applies to all the products and may lead to a recall.
Inadequate warnings. Some products are inherently unsafe but can be used with proper warnings to the users. Bouncy chairs are a popular toy for babies and parents and come with many warning labels about anchoring them properly to the doorframe and never leaving babies unattended while in use.
Proving these flaws in court may require expert testimony. An expert will need to explain how the weak metal or poor design caused the infant’s death. An expert can also describe what kind of warning should be used for infant loungers and whether a warning was sufficiently specific enough to alert the parents to potential harm.
Responsible Parties in Infant Lounger Liability Cases
In a product liability case, the manufacturer bears primary responsibility for the manufacturing or design flaw that caused the harm, but every entity in the chain between the factory and the consumer bears some liability for the injury. This is because the parties who market, deliver, and sell the product have knowledge of the product, which the consumer does not have, and they have some duty to transmit that knowledge to the end user.
Some of the parties who can be included in a case may be:
- The manufacturer
- The designer, including the R&D department
The chain of product liability may be broken if the product is used or has been modified or altered in some way. For instance, if you purchased an infant lounger at a yard sale, it would be difficult to make a claim for product liability if it caused an injury. Used products may lack warning labels or inserts, and previous owners may be unaware of recall notices. It’s never a good idea to buy used infant products.
Filing an Infant Product Liability Claim
Losing a child is one of the worst things to happen to a parent. You may not even consider filing a lawsuit against anyone, much less the maker of the baby lounger or crib that your infant died in. However, you ought to think about it as soon as you can, for several reasons.
Statutes of Limitation and Statutes of Repose
Each state has its own statute of limitation for product liability. For instance, the statute of limitations in Texas is two years from the date of injury or death. Two years may seem like a long time, especially if you are grieving the death of a child. Some states have longer statutes.
However, there is another time limit in product liability cases, called the statute of repose. Products can be purchased and not used for many years. A statute of repose says that if a certain number of years has elapsed since the item was purchased, a lawsuit cannot be filed even if it has caused an injury. In Texas, the statute of repose is fifteen years.
For instance, if a crib was purchased for one child, then stored unused for 14 years until the birth of a second child, there is only one year left on the statute of repose for that crib, no matter when an injury happens. However unlikely that scenario, you must consider it, especially if your state has a shorter statute of repose than Texas.
When You Need an Attorney
Parents should never attempt a wrongful death suit or product liability suit alone. The emotions involved in an infant’s death are too raw, and the complexities of a product liability suit are too involved for parents to manage by themselves.
A legal professional can sort out the facts in the case and obtain the documentation necessary to show how a faulty design was responsible for the injury. Your attorney can get the experts who will testify about the poor manufacture and the lack of warning labels and subpoena the individuals responsible for keeping the product on the market.
Most importantly, your attorney will handle all the legal filing, so you don’t need to review the medical records yourself. Having an attorney means you can continue the important job of recovering from your loss and getting on with life.