When consumers choose furniture to buy, they typically consider key factors such as aesthetics, utility, and cost. They may ask questions such as whether the item is needed for storage, seating, display, function, or just to fill a particular space? Is it the right style and color? Is it affordable? Do I like it?
But what about safety? Few people, except perhaps new parents considering nursery furniture, consistently consider the potential danger of furniture when they make a purchase. However, the reality is furniture can cause injuries, or even death. Common furniture accidents might not seem particularly dangerous, but the consequences can in fact be very serious. Heavy furniture can fall over. Poorly designed chairs can tip when someone stands up. Furniture with dangerous materials, including glass that can shatter, and upholstery coated in toxic chemicals, can cause temporary or even permanent injuries.
When consumers purchase a furniture item, they trust that it is safe for use, and assume it has been properly designed, manufactured, and tested. Unfortunately, those assumptions are not always true, and therefore that trust may be misplaced.
Under state and federal product liability laws, if a piece of furniture harms a consumer, the furniture designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers may be strictly liable for resulting injuries. If you have been injured by a defective piece of furniture, one that was unreasonably dangerous, or one that you used incorrectly because of inadequate warnings, you may be able to recover your damages. Speak to an experienced personal injury as soon as possible and get the legal advice you need.
Defective Furniture and Injuries
Ordinary furniture is a frequent source of accidents causing injuries and fatalities. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), furniture-related accidents affect more than two million people every year in the United States. The CPSC reports that between 2000 and 2016, there were almost 31,000 furniture injuries that required emergency medical treatment. Tip-over accidents caused 514 fatalities, with 64 percent of those involving tables, dressers, and bookcases.
Any type of furniture can be defective or unstable, but those most often blamed in consumer injuries include:
- Standard beds;
- Television stands, television wall mounts, and entertainment consoles;
- Office chairs;
- Bunk beds, futons, and highboys;
- Office tables and desks;
- Bar stools;
- Bathroom appliances;
- Patio furniture;
- Dining chairs;
- Mirrors; and
- Beach chairs.
Furniture accidents are often caused by factors such as:
- Poor construction. Substandard or poorly constructed furniture may have been cheaply made, or constructed of inferior materials. Poor construction makes furniture weaker, less able to safely handle weight, and prone to tipping or breaking.
- Defective design. Examples of defective design include three-legged chairs that wobble or tip, storage benches or chests without a safe built-in prop to prevent lids from coming down on a user’s head or hands, and office chairs with defective wheels.
- Inadequate assembly or installation instructions. Instructions that are vague, confusing, illegible, indecipherable, or even missing may make it impossible to safely assemble or install a piece of new furniture.
- Off-gassing. Some furniture emits toxic fumes from volatile organic compounds (VOC). While such chemicals are often used in household furniture, the gases are dangerous to the health of consumers and anyone who may be exposed to them for a prolonged period.
- Lead paint. Young children may bite or chew on furniture, and if such items contain lead paint it can result in dangerous levels of lead in the victim’s bloodstream.
- Failure to warn. Under the law, furniture manufacturers must provide adequate warnings if there are risks associated with a product.
Furniture Recalls and Risks
Between September 2011 and February 2016, four children reportedly died when IKEA’s MALM chests tipped over. There were also 41 reports of MALM chest tip-overs resulting in injuries to children, and an additional 41 reports of tip-overs involving other types of IKEA chests and dressers. As a result of those tip-overs, three children died and 19 were injured.
In June 2016, the CPSC and IKEA North America recalled all chests and dressers that failed to comply with voluntary industry standard requirements. According to the recall notice issued by the CPSC, the recalled chests and dressers were unstable if they were not properly anchored to the wall. The chests and dressers were hazardous to consumers and particularly children, with the potential to cause serious injuries, entrapment, or death. Over 29 million units of chests and dressers were recalled.
Statistics indicate that a child in the United States is injured every 24 minutes, and a child dies every two weeks, from furniture or televisions tipping over. Dressers and similar tall pieces of furniture are naturally top heavy. If the drawers are closed, the dresser normally stays upright. However, when the drawers are open the weight pulls toward the front, causing the entire unit to tip-over. Young children will often use drawers to climb on dressers or attempt to reach something on the top. The child’s weight in addition to the open drawers invariably causes forward falling onto the child, often with catastrophic results.
In 2015, the CPSC launched the Anchor It! campaign to help prevent furniture and television tip-overs from seriously injuring and killing children. Consumers can help prevent these accidents by taking simple measures, including:
- Secure all top-heavy furniture, such as dressers, armoires and entertainment centers.
- Use well-made, sturdy furniture, and preferably furniture designed for its intended purpose.
- Mount flat-screen televisions.
- Televisions that are not wall mounted should be securely fastened to the wall.
- When securing televisions and furniture, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Seek help if you do not understand the instructions.
- Older-model televisions should only be placed on furniture stable enough to hold the television, and should be anchored to the wall or to the television stand.
- Remove any objects on top of furniture that may tempt a child, such as toys, food, or remote controls.
The best measure to prevent accidents is usually anchoring dressers to the wall. However, wall anchors are difficult to find, and may difficult for many consumers to install. In fact, only about 25 percent of Americans have anchored furniture in their homes.
Murphy beds are another common source of furniture accident injuries and deaths. Murphy beds, also known as wall beds, are typically hinged on one side and can be folded upright to save space. High profile reports of Murphy bed fatalities include a Staten Island man who died when a Murphy bed being installed in his home hit and killed him, crushing his skull and severing his spine. In another incident, a woman was sleeping in a Murphy bed when it suddenly collapsed and locked, killing her.
There have been a number of reports of Murphy bed wooden wall enclosures collapsing or falling from the wall. In 2018 the CPSC recalled a Murphy bed kit because it did not provide adequate bracing support, posing a risk for tip-over and entrapment. Manufacturers and distributors of Murphy beds advise consumers to avoid overfilling their bed with extra pillows and bedding, and recommend a built-in lock. Consumers should also be sure their beds close properly.
Dangerous furniture poses a risk for injury to anyone who may use it, but children are particularly vulnerable because they tend to climb up on furniture, or use it to pull themselves to a standing position. Two-thirds of furniture and television tip-over fatalities are toddlers. Additionally, children make up 52 percent of emergency room visits caused by tip-over incidents, as well as 84 percent of reported fatalities.
Common furniture accident injuries to babies and children include concussions and traumatic brain injuries, damage to the neck and spine, fractures and crushed bones, and suffocation. Common injuries for victims of all ages include:
- Head trauma from falls and blows from collapsing or tipping furniture;
- Neck and spine injuries caused by collapsing or tipping furniture;
- Suffocation from entrapment in or under defective or tipped furniture;
- Bruises, cuts, and scrapes from breaking furniture or falls caused by collapsing or tipping furniture;
- Strangulation caused by the neck being caught in defective furniture;
- Broken bones and cracked or knocked out teeth from falls caused by collapsing or tipping furniture;
- Pinched fingers and hands from drawers, hinges, and lids;
- Brain damage or cancer from exposure to lead and other toxic chemicals;
- Chronic health problems such as respiratory distress and asthma from exposure to noxious gasses; and
- Burns caused by fires involving upholstered furniture without flame-retardant.
Proving a Piece of Furniture Is Defective
Furniture that has been poorly designed or manufactured can cause accidents and injuries in the home, office, or in places of public accommodation such as government buildings, shopping centers, gyms, hotels, and restaurants. Even furniture that is built according to safety standards of functional design can still cause injuries if the materials are shoddy or substandard.
Examples of defective furniture include:
- Chairs that fall apart because the legs were not properly attached;
- Chairs that wobble and tip;
- Carts and office chairs with defective wheels;
- Benches and toy chests with lids that can slam shut on a victim’s head, arms, or hands;
- Shelving that cannot hold weight because of inadequate brackets;
- Weak and splitting framework;
- Missing nails, screws, or other fasteners; and
- Cribs, strollers, high chairs, or other furniture intended for babies and children that do not meet recommended standards.
For a victim to recover compensation from damages caused by defective furniture, they must show the furniture was unreasonably dangerous because of a defect.
Common product defects include:
- Manufacturing defect. A manufacturing defect refers to an error in the manufacturing process. This may cause the product to be different from what was intended by the design. The question to answer is whether the product was in conformity with the original design plans. If not, then a manufacturing defect exists. An example of a manufacturing defect is where the manufacturer joined a stool’s legs incorrectly, so that the stool is unstable.
- Design defect. This means that something about how the furniture was designed makes it unreasonably dangerous. When a design defect occurs, every piece of furniture in the product line will probably be dangerous because every piece was manufactured using the same defective design.
- Failure to warn. Sometimes, no safety instructions are needed for furniture. However, furniture intended for use by children or infants may warrant instructions or warnings telling the consumer how to use the furniture safely. If such warnings are missing or inadequate, the product might be unreasonably dangerous.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOC). VOC materials are frequently used in the production of wood-based products such as fiberboard, particle board, and plywood. Budget-minded consumers often purchase dressers, tables, bookcases, desks, and other home furnishings that are more affordable because they are made from wood-based products. Exposure to VOCs can cause health problems such as eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; liver and kidney damage; and even cancer. Symptoms of VOC exposure can depend on many variables, including how long the exposure occurred, the age and size of the person exposed, and the circumstances of the exposure, such as whether it occurred in an enclosed space. Symptoms may include problems with breathing and vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and memory loss.
What to Do if You Were Injured by a Defective or Malfunctioning Product
Furniture accidents are more common than you might think. Under Florida law, anyone in the chain of distribution, including designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers, can be strictly liable for damages caused by defective or malfunctioning furniture. Such damages may include but are not limited to medical costs, loss of income, and pain and suffering. If you or a loved one have been injured, you should take action:
- Seek appropriate medical attention for your injuries. It is best to seek treatment promptly. However, some injuries do not become apparent until later. Maintain all medical records and the costs of any medical care from the date of the accident or event that caused your damages.
- Keep the furniture in its present condition following the accident, and take pictures.
- Document all injuries, damage to surrounding areas, and take notes or record contact information from any witnesses.
- Speak to our experienced personal injury lawyers.
The legal team at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA has offices in North Miami Beach, Aventura, Boca Raton, Doral, and Fort Lauderdale. Contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA at (833) 552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) or online to schedule a free consultation and learn if we can help you.
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