Legal counsel representing family of a child who died in a bunk bed entrapment case identifies regulatory missteps that shouldn’t happen again
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Wayfair
COLUMBUS, Ohio — An attorney representing the family of a child who died in a bunk bed entrapment accident said the case should raise awareness among parents and caregivers about the dangers of products that don’t meet current safety standards.
Daniel R. Mordarski represented the family of 2-year-old Jasyiah J. Boone (J.B.), who died in May 2018 after being entrapped in a narrow opening between the top step of a bunk bed ladder and the bottom frame of the top bunk. The twin-over-twin bed was produced by Moash Enterprise Co. of Binh Duong Province, Vietnam, and imported by Longwood Forest Products which sold it under its Angel Line series. The family purchased the bed from Wayfair in December 2017.
While the plaintiffs previously reached a private settlement with Longwood Products and Wayfair, a related legal action in the form of an amended complaint named the Vietnam manufacturer as a defendant that was also responsible for the safety issues.
This complaint claimed the manufacturer did not provide sufficient or adequate warnings or instruction that there was a risk of a child dying from positional asphyxiation or strangulation based on their use of the bed. It noted that this danger was not known to either the child or the parent related to the use of the bed, particularly in a “child’s room where children are expected to exist without supervision to sleep or play.”
Thus, while the defendants argued that the bed contained warnings against horseplay or allowing a child under age 6 to use the top bunk, the suit claimed the manufacturer should have known there would be periods in which the child would be unsupervised in their bedroom and would potentially come into contact with physical aspects of the bed that posed a danger. This includes a narrow opening where the body of a small child could become trapped and cause them to die from positional asphyxiation or strangulation.
This week, an Ohio jury awarded the family of J.B. $787 million in combined punitive and compensatory damages related to the claim. A judge is expected to rule on the case within 30 days although it’s not clear how much if anything they will receive from an overseas manufacturer that’s not fully subject to U.S. rules or regulations.
Mordarski said, however, that’s not really the No. 1 priority. Instead, he said, there are things the industry should know of that should have prevented the incident from happening in the first place and that should ultimately prevent such incidents from happening in the future.
+ He noted that Wayfair never received a certificate stating that the unit complied with safety standards. A copy of this type of certification Home News Now obtained from another furniture resource identifies several key safety measures for bunk beds — from the overall construction of the unit, including the positioning of guardrails and bed end structures to safety labeling requirements and related instructions. To achieve certification, a company’s product must meet all the applicable safety requirements.
+ In the J.B. case, Mordarski noted, one of the parties involved did not communicate the issue with the bed to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission until six months after it learned of the child’s death. The other party, he noted, waited until the CPSC contacted them regarding the incident.
“Everybody in the supply chain has a legal obligation to report to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the statute says you have to report immediately,” he said, noting there were delayed responses from the companies involved. “And we don’t believe Moash ever reported it. That just shouldn’t happen.”
Noting that product safety is a top priority, Wayfair told Home News Now that the bed in question was removed immediately from its site after it learned of the accident.
“It was later subject to a CPSC recall, which required Longwood to make a design change to the ladder,” a spokesperson for Wayfair said. “We only began selling products subject to that recall again after the design change was fully implemented and approved by the CPSC.”
An attorney representing Longwood did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
In regard to payment of the $787 million award approved by the jury, Mordarski noted that the expectations of collecting anything from a foreign manufacturer are quite low.
“We went into this not expecting to collect anything from them — because they are in Vietnam and that presents so many challenges,” he said.
However, the firm does hope to raise awareness of safety issues involving this particular manufacturer.
“What we do know is that they (Moash) ship a lot of their products to America,” he said. “We know they design and manufacture not just this bunk bed, but a whole wide range of furniture, so we don’t believe this is a small mom-and-pop operation.”
At this point, he said, he and his colleagues are working with the CPSC in hopes of preventing similar incidents from happening in the future.
“From our perspective, the next step is what I would call the regulatory step,” he said. “We want to make sure this never happens again. There were so many huge missteps here, including selling a product after the recall — that’s unbelievable. Especially when it comes to a child’s product where a child died.”
One of the key issues, he noted, is for the industry to make sure it is complying with the latest product safety standards.
“Part of what we are hoping to do is work with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to say, ‘Here’s what happened in this case,’” he said of safety standards not being met. “If it happened in this case, it’s got to be happening in other cases. We hope the industry doesn’t want this to happen, and I assume that manufacturers of children’s products don’t want this to happen. So what can we do together to make sure it never happens again?”