Fisher-Price Recalls 4.7 Million Units of Rock ‘n Play Sleeper After 32 Infant Deaths Reported
Fisher-Price has announced a product recall of all models of its China-made Rock ‘n Play Sleeper from the market, assuring consumers of a full refund.
The recall was announced on April 12th, 2019, after an extensive investigation by ConsumerReports.org exposed the life-threatening risks of the product for infants.
Nearly 4.7 million products have been recalled, and consumers can contact Fisher-Price for a voucher or cash refund.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has published the details of the recall on its website to inform consumers and help protect infants against the risk of death or injury associated with this faulty product.
The Consumer Reports (CR) investigation showed that Rock ‘n Play Sleeper (which sold at major retailers for a price of up to $149) was unsafe ever since it was introduced in the market in 2009. Over a period of nearly 10 years, at least 32 infant fatalities have taken place in Rock ‘n Play Sleepers.
The deaths occurred after the infants rolled over from their back to their side or stomach while unrestrained, or under various other circumstances.
Timeline of the Fisher-Price Product Recall
- On April 8th, 2019, Consumer Reports published a detailed investigative report exposing the dangers to the lives of infants while using the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper.
- On April 9th, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) issued a request to the CPSC to order an immediate recall of the product, citing the investigation by Consumer Reports.
- On April 11, CR link four additional infant fatalities to inclined sleepers from another company called Kids II, and asked for their recall as well for the same reasons.
- On April 12th, Fisher-Price announced a product recall of all 4.7m units sold in the market. The company cited infant deaths as the reason for this recall and asked parents to immediately stop the use of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper for their babies.
- On April 26th, following the action of Fisher-Price, the other company Kids II also announced a recall of 694,000 units of its product Rocking Sleeper, citing infant fatalities.
- On May 15th, 2019, Health Canada ordered a separate recall of the same Fisher-Price product sold in Canada. Health Canada cited safety risks as the reason for the recall, and asked caregivers to stop the use of this product for the child’s overnight sleep or naptime.
CR Investigation which led to the Fisher-Price Recall
An investigation by Consumer Reports (CR) into the safety of ‘Rock ‘n Play Sleeper’ from Fisher-Price found it to be linked to at least 32 infant deaths. The product is designed and marketed to help babies sleep better on an incline.
On April 5th, 2019, days after CR completed their investigation and were asked to comment on it, Fisher-Price and the federal government issued a product warning for Rock ‘n Play Sleeper. However, the warning was not deemed to go far enough in the opinion of safety advocates.
CR was informed by multiple medical experts that in order to minimize the risk of accidental suffocation, babies should not be placed at an incline, but flat on their backs on a surface without any soft padding. Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was not found to adhere to these recommendations.
The safety alert issued by Fisher-Price and the CPSC includes a warning from the CPSC. It asks consumers to stop using Rock ‘n Play Sleeper as soon as an infant is 3 months old or begins to show capabilities of rolling over.
The alert reported 10 infant death incidences since 2015 that were tied to the product. Infants lying on the sleeper were unrestrained and managed to roll from their back to their sides or stomach.
Fisher-Price Refused to Recall the Product despite Reports of Infant Deaths
In spite of these staggering numbers ‘Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper’ was not recalled. Fisher-Price is a part of the Mattel group (children’s products manufacturing giant) who earned $4.5 billion in sales in 2018.
The deaths have only resulted in empty warnings by CPSC and the company. In fact, CPSC still doesn’t have a mandatory safety standard for inclined sleep products targeted at infants.
An emailed statement from Fisher-Price to CR claimed that they would do everything possible to impart the necessary information to parents and caregivers for creating an infant sleep environment which was both safe and sound. They also expressed the loss of a child as being a devastating tragedy.
But, when CR pushed on with its investigation relentlessly, they found that babies much younger than the stipulated 3-month threshold (as stated in the April 5th warning) had died.
Fisher-Price confirmed that in addition to the 10 infant fatalities noted in the CPSC joint release, the company was aware of approximately 22 other deaths since the introduction of Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper in 2009.
However, the company reportedly told CR that they did not believe these deaths to be caused because of the correct usage of the product, citing various situations where the sleeper was clearly used in the wrong manner contrary to instructions and safety warning.
They also stated that there were many instances where an actual health or medical condition was identified as the primary cause of death.
While certain cases were found to be the result of contributing illness and additional bedding, as per data reviewed by CR, there were a number of incidents that were directly associated with using Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, raising concerns about the product’s safety.
Further, products that require restraining a baby (especially, if that product can also rock) is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Lori Feldman-Winter, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, N.J. and also a member of the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) taskforce led by the AAP stated that fastening a baby down to a surface and then rocking the baby is not consistent with the SIDS recommendations.
William Wallace, a senior policy analyst at CR voiced that the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play was a serious threat to infant’s safety based on the past deaths and injuries, and that all products should be immediately recalled.
Wallace also said that all other inclined sleeper products targeted at infants should be investigated by the CPSC and they should be pulled off the market if they conflict with the safe sleep recommendations as stated by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The alert issued by CPSC and Fisher-Price on April 8th, 2019 followed a previous similar alert issued by CPSC almost a year ago, where they warned consumers about inclined sleep products (without naming Rock ‘n Play Sleeper) and the risk to infants.
CR was told by CPSC in an emailed statement that they were aware of the other deaths occurred because of Rock ‘n Play and that they were currently focusing on the deaths linked to the rollover hazard.
The statement also claimed the agency to be evaluating Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and investigating it for defects, and that if they found evidence that warranted a recall, then they shall not hesitate to make that step.
But, CR’s investigation which was based in part on the CPSC data that was previously undisclosed, and in part on the numerous lawsuits and interviews with products engineers, medical experts, government officials, industry experts, and parents, raised strong concerns about how Fisher-Price developed and marketed Rock ‘n Play in the first place.
The investigation also raised questions about how the product was allowed to be sold in spite of all the deaths and incidents dating so many years back.
CR’s investigation highlighted a tremendous weakness and flaw in the regulatory system designed to protect consumers and children from hazardous products.
A Heart-Rending List of Infant Deaths
CR uncovered the earliest death to have occurred in 2011, with many more in the following years.
For instance, as per a lawsuit against Fisher-Price there is an incident of a mother from Hidalgo County, Texas, who placed her daughter in the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper on her back for the night on Oct. 19th, 2013.
All was well when the mother checked on her baby girl at 4 am, but when she checked again at 7 am, the baby had stopped breathing.
Her head was tilted on the side compressing her airway. She died because her chin was on her shoulder causing positional asphyxia.
CR found the most recent deaths to have occurred in spring 2018 involving a 9-day old baby boy in Copperas Cove, Texas and a month old infant girl in Knoxville, Tenn.
There have been a number of close shaves as well with one being on July 25th, 2014 where a 7-week-old boy placed in the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was rescued by his grandmother who happened to be in the room.
Jan Hinson, the grandmother, from Greenville, S.C claims to have looked at her grandson and found his head to be cocked in the wrong way. He was lifeless and blue all over. She got the little boy to breathe again who was declared fine after a day’s stay at the hospital.
Hinson is also a lawyer and is currently representing Evan and Keenan Overton from Virginia, whose son died while taking a nap in the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper.
In 2017, just a few days before Christmas, Keenan was sleeping on the couch with 5-month-old Ezra asleep in the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper.
Keenan upon waking in the middle of the night found Ezra to be on his stomach, lifeless, and not breathing. Keenan yelled for Evan to call 911.
Evan sobbed that Ezra’s body was hard and blue all over. His son did not feel real in his arms. The baby was pronounced dead due to asphyxia at the hospital and while the Overtons say that Ezra was buckled, the death certificate says the baby was unrestrained.
As the Overtons came to grasp what had happened in the weeks and months following Ezra’s funeral, they came upon the controversy surrounding Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play.
The new parents had trusted Fisher-Price and the product to be safe for their baby’s sleep time because that was the way it was marketed. The product is marketed ‘for naptime and nighttime’ and the package clearly refers to the product as an ‘inclined sleeper designed for all-night’s sleep.’
However, the internet search carried out by the couple revealed a whole different story. There were multiple posts by parents and doctors labeling the product as a safety hazard.
The Overtons learned that Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper due to its inclined position was a serious threat and increased the risk of infant fatality.
The product had been a hand-me-down from the Overtons neighbors who claimed it to be a lifesaver when their child was an infant. However, the Overtons after reading up about it became convinced that the opposite was true.
Evan posted a comment on Amazon on Jan. 6th, 2018 warning parents not to buy Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and labeled it as a horrible contraption that claimed the life of his son and should not be marketed as a sleeper.
When Fisher-Price was asked about the Overton incident by CR, they responded by saying that it is an unimaginable tragedy to lose a child. Fisher-Price also confirmed that this incident was part of the 10 incidents cited by the company in the April 5 joint CPSC alert.
A History of the Product’s Dangers
The website of Fisher-Price states that the company first got the idea for Rock ‘n Play Sleeper and commenced its development when one their designers had a baby boy who couldn’t sleep because of acid reflux troubles.
The designer’s pediatricians suggested keeping the infant’s head at an elevated angle, which prompted her and the company to build a sleeper that would keep a baby’s head at a 30 degree incline while sleeping.
CR was told by Fisher-Price that the company engaged a reputed engineering and scientific consulting firm that assessed the risk of Rock ‘n Play Sleeper to be lower than that of cribs, cradles and bassinets.
The medical consultant hired by Fisher-Price was found to be a physician from San Antonio called Gary Deegear, M.D., as per documents filed by the company in an Atlanta lawsuit. According to these documents, Deegear assured Fisher-Price about the safety of Rock ‘n Play Sleeper.
For instance, Kitty Pilarz who is Mattel’s vice president of product safety and regulatory compliance wrote in an email that Dr. Deegear claimed pediatricians from all over to recommend placing infants with acid reflux at an incline of 30 degrees or in a car seat.
However, there are several concerns about this advice given by Dr. Deegear.
For starters, according to the Texas Medical Board, Deegear is not a pediatrician or a sleep specialist. He is a family practice doctor and CR could not reach him for comment even after multiple attempts.
Another reason is that the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development along with the AAP have long counseled against keeping infants or allowing them to sleep unsupervised while in a reclining position.
Shortly after the joint alert issued by Fisher-Price and the CPSC, the AAP tweeted a warning about not using the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper for routine sleep. They advised to always strap the baby and never leave one unattended if the sleeper was used for soothing purposes.
Feldman-Winter stated that the AAP does not recommend babies to be placed with their heads in an elevated position while sleeping since that position can result in accidental strangulation and suffocation in bed.
Instead, babies should be placed on their backs, alone and unrestrained, on a flat and firm surface, such as a mattress with a fitted sheet in the play yard, crib or bassinet.
Experts advise parents not to use a stroller, car seat, sling, swing, wedge, or other similar products for unsupervised sleep.
This recommendation, as per Feldman-Winter, applies to all babies, including the ones with acid reflux. She understands the desperation parents feel when their babies are in pain or crying and can’t sleep, and recognizes that some parents have heard about putting a child at an incline to ease the problem.
However, there is no evidence that suggests acid reflux can be eased by placing the baby at an incline. She further stated that many parents think it is safe to keep babies in an elevated sleep position, but it is not.
The AAP doesn’t recommend using any sleeping device that requires a baby to be restrained during routine use because a baby may be incapable of moving after rolling into an unsafe position, causing strangulation or suffocation.
This is also one of the reasons behind experts cautioning against placing babiesin car seats for unsupervised sleep.
These products are deemed acceptable, as stated by Paul Gaudreau, a mechanical engineer who has experience in the car-seat industry and currently works for UPPAbaby, because that is the safest position in the event of a car crash.
Medical experts also warn that straps in car seats can cause strangulation which is the reason why Gaudreau always steered the company he worked for to not develop inclined sleepers.
The basic advice that recommends babies to be placed on a firm and level surface dates back to 1994, which is well before Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was developed by Fisher-Price.
In 1994, the AAP and other infant-safety related groups developed the “Back to Sleep” campaign aimed at reducing the risk of sleep-related deaths and SIDS. The campaign is now labeled as “Safe to Sleep” and has successfully helped bring down the rate of SIDS by 50%.
Roy Benaroch, M.D.is an associate adjunct professor of pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta and has blogged about the potential safety risks of the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper.
He told CR that parents are usually not able to make an enlightened decision because they are confused on account of sleepless nights, crying and cranky baby, and general exhaustion.
He said that parents are ready to grasp at any solution that comes their way, without really understanding the risk they assume by using inclined sleepers. Benaroch asserted that parents who use Rock ‘n Play Sleeper are putting their baby at the risk of infant fatality.
‘Rock ‘n Play Sleeper’ was marketed along with bassinets by Fisher-Price when it was first introduced. However, in 2010, less than a year later, the CPSC began to form drafts to revise infant sleep surface standards. This included bassinets.
They issued a proposed rule which would require all products to be flat and firm. The products could be at an angle below 5 degrees, though not while rocking or swinging.
Pilarz at Mattel, rather than adjusting the incline of their products reached out to CPSC for a revision of the proposed rule.
She claimed that not making the change on account of products like Rock ‘n Play Sleeper could potentially increase the risk of injury as exhausted parents looked elsewhere and substituted for products that could be more dangerous.
Ultimately, CPSC excluded products with an incline greater than 10 degrees from their mandatory standards for bassinets and cradles in October 2013.
Armed with this exclusion, Fisher-Price with other industry reps went to ASTM International. This organization includes representatives from public, government, and the industry in question to set voluntary safety standards of consumer products. They applied for voluntary standard for a new category – the inclined infant sleepers.
Some ASTM members had objected creating a new category and setting voluntary standards for these products.
The executive director of Kids in Danger, Nancy Cowles claimed that by setting a standard, parents would be coerced into believing that the products must be safe. Kids in Danger (KID) is a nonprofit organization focusing on reducing injuries in children and infants due to consumer products.
Cowles worried that the voluntary ASTM standard would create confusion and give parents a sense of false security about inclined sleepers which were anything but secure.
Nevertheless, ASTM went on ahead to develop a voluntary standard for the inclined sleeper category and appointed Michael Steinwachs as chairperson.
Steinwachs was employed by Fisher-Price at the time as one of the primary engineers of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper. In 2015, the voluntary standard was established for infant inclined sleep products.
Even though Cowles at KID was disappointed, she wasn’t surprised because even with talks about safety issues, parents just keep buying products, and companies keep on selling them, justifying singular incidents as the parent’s fault.
Product Warnings from Other Parts of the World
According to documents filed in the Hidalgo County lawsuit, there were many health and regulatory agencies that did not trust the inclined sleeper.
For instance, in January 2011, Australian regulators wrote to Mattel explaining their reasons as to why the product should not be marketed as a sleep product.
They said that the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was at odds with widely accepted infant regulations that state such products to not be used as an infant bedding alternative.
The Australian regulators also claimed that the product’s angles could make babies’ heads fall forward that could cause obstruction to airways. The sleeper is still not sold in Australia as confirmed by Fisher-Price.
In Canada, the product was reclassified as a ‘soother’ from a ‘sleeper’ and is now re-marketed as the Rock ‘n Play Soothing Seat.
This was after a Health Canada representative wrote to Mattel Canada in February 2011 about their concerns in light of recommendations by the Canadian Pediatric Society and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Despite misgivings from various health organizations, Rock ‘n Play is still marketed as a ‘sleeper’ in the United Kingdom.
The Royal College of Midwives in the UK in February 2011 told Fisher-Price that they would not endorse Rock ‘n Play as a sleeper because they thought it was suitable for only short periods of supervised play.
A Fisher-Price employee, after receiving this news, wrote in an internal email that the findings from the testing of the product by the Royal College of Midwives did not have good implications for a UK launch.
What Should the Parents Do?
Safety experts now agree and suggest that people who may still be using Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleepers should stop their use immediately for an infant’s routine sleep. They recommend that the best way to put the babies on their bed is alone.
The baby should be put on his or her back, over a flat, firm, flat mattress in a bassinet, play yard, or crib.
The product recall from Fisher-Price should be taken seriously by every parent to protect their infant against the risk of injury or death due to a faulty product.
Filing a Lawsuit Against Fisher-Price For Rock ‘N Play Recall
If you or a loved one has suffered from the death of a baby due to the defective design of the Fisher-Price Rock ‘N Play, you may be entitled to compensation by filing a lawsuit. To contact lawyers handling lawsuits against Fisher-Price, please use the form below.