Crib Recall Came Years After Infant Deaths

Manufacturer allegedly allowed children to sleep in flawed cribs.

February 12, 2009, 12:40 PM

Sept. 23, 2007 — -- It is the second largest crib recall in the nation's history: A million cribs with a design flaw so serious, the Consumer Products Safety Commission said children should not be allowed to sleep in them for another night.

But, for the past two-and-a-half years, the CPSC allowed children to sleep in those same Simplicity cribs — even though it knew that incorrectly installed drop rails had led to three infant deaths.

Chad and Nicola Johns' son Liam was just 9 months old when he died in a Simplicity-manufactured crib, back in April 2005. His mother went into his room in the morning, and found him hanging in a gap between the drop rail and the mattress. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

"That was the worst day ever," said Nicola. "There's nothing that can describe how we were feeling that day."

The Johns sued Simplicity. But, while the CPSC investigated the matter, they didn't inspect the crib, and the investigator's report failed to identify the crib's manufacturer or model.

For two-and-a-half years, no recall was ordered.

Last week's recall came shortly after the Chicago Tribune told the CPSC and Simplicity that it was preparing to publish an investigative report on the cribs.

"The CPSC didn't even pick up the crib until after I told them about it," said Tribune reporter Maurice Possley. "A kid died in April of '05, and a kid dies in November of 2006, and you're the parents of a kid who dies in February of '07, and you know that something could have been done about it? Boy, I'd be really, really angry."

Experts say the problem isn't a lack of will, but a lack of resources at the CPSC, whose budget has been systematically starved.

"They have too many complaints to investigate, and I think they simply do not have the resources and staffing to deal seriously and competently with every serious complaint made," said Charles Kelly, the attorney representing the Johns.

The CPSC flatly denied the recall had anything to do with the Chicago Tribune report.

In a statement provided to ABC News, a CPSC spokesperson said, "In the last 18 months, we have conducted two recalls with this company," and "we are now appreciating the scope of the issue and the complexity of additional failures."

She added, "The safety of children is our highest priority, and we are working every day to reduce the risk of injury and death to one of the most vulnerable and treasured populations."

Likewise, Simplicity president Ken Waldman said in a statement to ABC News, "Simplicity makes safe products, and we are constantly seeking ways to make them safer. Working in conjunction with the CPSC, we decided that this voluntary recall was the appropriate step to take at this time."

For the Johns, who have a new baby boy, the recall is welcome news. But, feelings of anger and helplessness remain.

"Nobody was listening to what we had to say," said Nicola. "We were trying, but nobody would listen. And two other children had to die because of it."

They hope, at least now, no other families will suffer a similar loss.

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