Two Children Suffocate Inside Self-Locking Chest – Subject Of 1996 Recall

Two children from Franklin, Massachusetts died on January 12, 2014 in an automatically locking hope chest. Officials remain concerned that many similar chests remain in people’s homes after nearly 20 years of recall efforts.

In Reynoldsburg, Ohio in 1999, a small child died in a similar Lane chest. The lid is very heavy, and once it closes, with the original lock in place, children are unable to get out. In fact,  these two most recent deaths mark at least the ninth that officials have attributed to Lane’s hope chests since 1977. The Lane Co., through the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), issued a voluntary recall in 1996 for an estimated 12 million chests manufactured between 1912 and 1987, offering to replace the automatic lock for free. Lane also agreed to pay a $900,000 civil penalty in 2001 for failing to report the danger immediately.

One estimate places the number of still-hazardous chests in the streams of commerce at 6 million units. This despite the recall having been repeated at least twice — once in 2000 and again in 2006.

Concerns remain that more tragedies will occur, because recalls simply are not effective enough to inform all consumers. The chests are sturdy, and may be passed down through generations. The hazard of the defective lock is not easily known or understood by purchasers or users.

At any point during the design and manufacturing process, failures regarding safety issues associated with children’s products such as chests may contribute to a product’s hazards, including (1) missteps during the early design stages; (2) inadequate testing to ensure safe performance; and (3) marketing efforts that include inadequate instructions and warnings, or failure to include any relevant cautions. Even one act of negligence during the process from product’s conception to its sale can cause catastrophic injuries and even wrongful death once the product reaches homes, schools and workplaces of consumers. Moreover, the recall process – while necessary – is a step of last resort after a defect has been uncovered. The first line of defense is the manufacture and sale of a safe product in the first instance, so that defects will not find their way into the streams of commerce and onto retail shelves.

If you or a family member have suffered significant personal injuries as the result of a defective product, or have questions relating to recalls of children’s products such as the Lane chests, contact the law office of Swartz & Swartz, P.C. Call (617) 742-1900 in the Boston area, or for clients in greater Massachusetts, New England, or other states across the U.S., call toll-free at 1-800-545-3732.

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