Just two weeks after recalling millions of Rock 'n Play sleepers, Fisher-Price is facing class-action lawsuits linking the product to 32 infant deaths.
The suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, allege that the East Aurora toy maker knew about the risks to babies well in advance of the recall – years before, in fact – and ignored them.
At the core of the suits against Fisher-Price and Mattel, its parent company, is the allegation that the Rock 'n Play is inherently unsafe because it encourages the kind of incline sleeping that can cause suffocation and death.
Families suing the company are seeking an unspecified amount in damages, and lawyers indicated the number of potential claimants could climb as high as 4.7 million, the number of sleepers recalled earlier this month.
“At least 32 infant fatalities and countless other injuries have been associated with the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper since its introduction in 2009," Buffalo attorney Terrence M. Connors said in a statement Monday. "Well-respected organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Consumer Reports have sought recall of this product."
Connors is representing Cassandra Mulvey, a Nassau County mother who received a Rock 'n Play as a gift and said she used it because of its appeal as an overnight sleeper. It was not clear from court papers if Mulvey is suing simply as a purchaser of the product or if her child was hurt while using it.
In the other suit, Samantha Drover-Munday and Zachary Munday are suing over the death of their 3-month-old daughter in September.
The Mundays' lawyers said the Delaware couple is hoping their lawsuit will serve as a warning to other parents.
"The child's death was an unspeakable tragedy," said Jonathan A. Sorkowitz, a lawyer for the couple.
Mattel did not respond to a request for comment Monday but, in a statement at the time of the recall two weeks ago, Fisher Price acknowledged the growing concern over its product.
"A child fatality is an unimaginable tragedy," General Manager Chuck Scothon said at the time. "In recent days, questions have been raised about the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper. We stand by the safety of our products. However, due to reported incidents in which the product was used contrary to the safety warnings and instructions, we have decided to conduct a voluntary recall of the Rock 'n Play Sleeper in partnership with the Consumer Product Safety Commission."
Both suits allege that Fisher-Price knew about the risks of incline sleeping and the rash of infant deaths linked to its sleeper but waited until this month to take action.
By placing the baby at a 30-degree angle, the Rock 'n Play significantly increases the likelihood that an infant's head will tilt into a dangerous position, according to the lawsuits.
The results, they say, can range from serious neck injuries and a constricted windpipe to a blocked airflow if the baby's face is pressed against the fabric of the sleeper.
The lawsuits also note that the Academy of Pediatrics repeatedly advised against allowing infants to sleep at an incline for prolonged periods of time. They also refer to a Consumer Product Safety Commission recommendation that parents stop using the Rock 'n Play once their children reach 3 months of age and start to roll over.
Each of the two suits seeks to create two classes of potential claimants, one for New York State, the other nationwide.
In the suit filed by the Delaware couple who lost their daughter, the family also seeks to create a class of injured and diseased infants and a second class for consumers who bought a Rock 'n Play sleeper.
In the lawsuit on behalf of the Nassau County mother, Connors is working with Manhattan attorney Demet Basar.