Deaths linked to potentially dangerous products aren't always made public

Consumer Reports investigation reveals surprising legal restrictions

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Lauren Verno - Consumer investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If deaths are linked to a potentially hazardous product and the government knows about it, you'd think that information would always be made public. But, you'd be wrong. Consumer Reports is revealing surprising restrictions in the very law governing the agency that is supposed to protect us from dangerous products.

Evan and Keenan Overton lost their 5-month-old son, Ezra, just a few days before Christmas in 2017. They blame their son’s death on the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper, which Ezra slept in that night. 

“His face was, planted into the back of the seat, like into the monkey's face, I guess, of the rocker. And his feet were straight, standing into the dip of the seat. And um, when I picked him up, he, he felt like a doll,” Keenan Overton explained. “It was marketed as a sleeper, so we would also use it for nap time.”

Five-month-old Ezra died a few days before Christmas in 2017.

Shockingly, Ezra’s death isn’t an isolated incident. Initially, Consumer Reports identified at least 19 infant fatalities linked to the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper and similar products made by Kids II, in data collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the government agency charged with protecting the public from dangerous products. Ultimately, Consumer Reports was able to uncover more than a dozen additional deaths through its investigation.

Yet, the identities of the companies whose sleepers were linked to infant deaths were kept hidden from the public for years because of Section 6-B of the Consumer Product Safety Act. 

“Section 6-B requires the CPSC, in most cases, to get permission from manufacturers before releasing their names or any information that could reveal their identities, even when products are linked with injuries or fatalities,” said Consumer Reports Investigative Reporter Rachel Rabkin Peachman.

In 2016, Ikea recalled millions of its dressers, but only after seven deaths and dozens of injuries dating all the way back to 1989. 

And more recently, it took Britax owned BOB Gear, seven years to finally offer consumers a potential fix to their jogging strollers, which had been linked to at least 97 injuries to children and adults. The company still hasn’t recalled the strollers.

In both of these cases, the CPSC knew about the problems with Ikea dressers and BOB strollers. All of this has led to Consumer Reports calling for the repeal of section 6-B.

“One of the critical next steps is for Congress to just simply eliminate this 6-B provision,” said David Friedman, Consumer Reports VP, Advocacy.

“Everyone should know," added Keenan Overton. "If there's one baby that died in a product, you should know about that.”

When Fisher-Price recalled its Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, it said:

“With these actions, we want parents around the world to know that safety will always be a cornerstone of our mission, we are committed to these values, and will continue to prioritize the health, safety and well-being of the infants and preschoolers who utilize our products.”

Kids II’s response to the infant deaths associated with its sleeper, a spokesperson said:

 “Each of these deaths are tragic and heartbreaking.”

The company went on to say that the incidents were not a result of product malfunction or design.

CONSUMER REPORTS: What is the future of the inclined sleeper?

Consumer Reports asked the CPSC what it is planning to do with the inclined infant sleeper category. The agency responded that it is “reassessing the product class and hazards associated with it.”

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2019 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumer.org.