Lawsuits have been filed against the brand Fisher-Price and its owner Mattel after babies died while using the company’s Rock ‘n Play baby sleeper.
The sleeper, introduced in 2009, claimed to help babies get to sleep easily. Unfortunately, the company failed to perform medical tests on the sleeper before making it available to consumers and many speculate this has led to the deaths of several infants.
The Rock ‘n Play Sleeper puts babies on their backs at a 30 degree angle. The padded seat reclines babies instead of laying them flat, as is the case when they are in a bassinet or crib.
The company claimed the sleeper would allow babies to “sleep at a comfortable incline all night long!” It was the first product of its kind on the market and nearly five million Rock ‘n Play Sleepers were sold over the next 10 years.
Fisher-Price Failed to Conduct Medical Research
The product’s concept was based on what many believe to be erroneous advice about safe sleeping positions for infants. There were no safety tests performed on the sleeper and no clinical research to back up whether it was safe. The company asked just one doctor, who has since lost his medical license, about whether the product was safe for infants. The company eventually hired a pediatrician to assess the sleeper, but that didn’t occur until eight years after it was on the market and it was an action taken in defense of a liability lawsuit filed against it.
Now, a decade later, the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper has been recalled after several infant deaths. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 30 babies died as a result of using the product.
Regulators have yet to definitely conclude the sleeper caused the infant deaths, but companies that have since produced similar inclined sleepers have recalled their products as well, after five additional deaths occurred as a result of use of those products.
The tragedies linked to the sleeper call into question the effectiveness of the United States’ product safety system and how it relies so heavily on manufacturers, as opposed to regulators.
The commissioner of the CPSC, Robert Adler, points out that his organization does not give its blessing to products before they are introduced to the market, even though consumers often believe that to be the case.
Consumers also believe that products for babies and children are scrutinized for safety before they are available for sale, but this, too, is rarely the case.
Mattel, the owner of the Fisher-Price brand, has refused to answer questions about the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper and continues to claim that safety is the company’s number one priority. The company also claims the sleeper met US safety regulations and standards.
Dispute Continues over Safe Sleeping Positions for Babies
Experts claim the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper conflicts with the guidelines of what constitutes a safe sleep position for infants issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the organization, babies should sleep on their backs in an empty crib or bassinet. They should not sleep for long periods of time in inclined positions as they would while in car seats or swings.
There are some parents and doctors who believe that inclining a baby’s head while sleeping will reduce reflux and prevent gastrointestinal issues while sleeping, but the majority of the medical community believes this to be risky. The concept for the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was created by a Mattel employee whose pediatrician had recommended an inclined sleeping position for her son years before the product was introduced to the market.