An article published yesterday in the New York Times raises serious questions about product safety issues concerning bed rails, and is worth our notice here in Oregon. The paper’s reporting is built around the shocking revelation that the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have both “known for more than a decade about deaths from bed rails but had done little to crack down on the companies that make them.”
Even the fact that two government agencies had so much evidence raising questions about these dangerous products came to light only after a woman whose mother died in a bed rail accident launched a persistent letter-writing campaign. The woman became concerned about safety issues after her 81-year old mother died when she was “apparently strangled after getting her neck caught in side rails used to prevent her from rolling out of bed” at the nursing home where she lived.
The newspaper reports that data compiled by the CPSC documented 150 adult deaths, mainly among senior citizens, as a result of bed rails between 2003 and mid-2012. “Over the same time period, 36,000 mostly older adults – about 4,000 a year – were treated in emergency rooms with bed rail injuries,” the Times adds.
The truly shocking revelation, however, is that manufacturers pushed back against government efforts to improve the safety of bed rails citing “added costs to small manufacturers,” according to the Times. In some cases the regulations the industry opposed were as simple as the addition of warning labels. The paper quotes a spokesperson for a manufacturer saying that these debates ultimately led to product improvement – but at an average death rate of one person per month such an incremental process seems worse than inadequate.
According to the paper, progress on fixing this problem has also been slowed by bureaucratic infighting and Washington’s political culture. The CPSC and FDA have disagreed over which agency should regulate bed rails and Congress preferred “voluntary guidelines” to binding regulation.
From a Portland product safety attorney’s perspective the shocking thing here is less the lack of government action than the manufacturers’ choice of profits over the safety of their customers. It is a reminder of why our courts are so important. They offer ordinary citizens an opportunity to hold greedy corporations accountable for their negligence when government is unable, or far too slow, to act.
New York Times: After Dozens of Deaths, Inquiry Into Bed Rails