Last week, IKEA reached a $46 million settlement agreement with the family of a two-year old who was killed in a 2017 accident involving an IKEA brand dresser that had been recalled the previous year. According to allegations raised in the wrongful death lawsuit, which was filed in California by the family of Jozef Dudek, IKEA failed to effectively conduct a recall of millions of MALM series dressers, which had been linked to dozens of tip-over and entrapment accidents, 17 injuries and four child deaths since 2016. The plaintiffs, Joleen and Craig Dudek, claimed in their lawsuit that IKEA knew that its MALM dressers did not adhere to the industry’s voluntary stability standard at that time, which required dressers taller than 30 inches to remain stable with a 50-pound weight hanging from an open drawer.
Jozef Dudek is one of the dozens of children killed in furniture tip-over accidents every year, a risk that led the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to launch the “Anchor It” campaign in 2015, to encourage consumers to properly secure TVs and anchor top-heavy furniture to the wall to prevent these tragic and avoidable accidents. According to the Dudek’s lawsuit, an unstable MALM series dresser that had been recalled the year before tipped over onto the toddler’s neck, causing him to suffocate to death. Since the original recall of the IKEA dressers, announced by the CPSC in June 2016, more than 35 million dressers and chests have been pulled from the market due to concerns about the unstable pieces tipping over if they are not properly anchored to the wall and posing a serious “entrapment hazard that can result in death or injuries to children.”
Prior to this latest settlement, in December 2016, IKEA agreed to pay $50 million to resolve three other wrongful death claims brought by the families of children who were killed in tip-over accidents involving recalled MALM dressers. That settlement agreement was reached five months before Jozef Dudek’s tragic death. Unfortunately, “like so many others, the Dudeks were unaware of the recall or the dangerous unstable nature of the dresser,” said the family’s attorney, who noted that the significant payout was because IKEA “did not conduct its recall effectively.” According to the family’s attorney, the Dudeks had been members of the IKEA Family loyalty program when they purchased the MALM dresser in 2008 and the company had their contact information and purchase history on file, yet the couple never received a warning letter or email alerting them to the dresser recall.
Sadly, furniture tip-over accidents like the one that killed Jozef Dudek are not uncommon. When dressers and other heavy pieces of furniture are unstable and are not properly anchored to the wall, they can put small children at risk for suffocation, crush injuries, blunt force trauma and other potentially life-threatening accidents. According to the CPSC, “one child dies every two weeks and one consumer is injured every 15 minutes when a piece of furniture or a television falls over onto them.” On average, a child is sent to the emergency room for a furniture tip-over accident injury every 24 minutes in the United States.
Safety advocates say that the IKEA settlement, believed to be the largest for the wrongful death of a child in U.S. history, is a step forward for consumer safety, sending an important message to companies to carry out their recalls effectively and make sure that they are successful in reaching consumers who may be affected by recalls. As part of its settlement agreement with the Dudek family, IKEA has agreed to expand its outreach efforts to ensure that consumers who own the recalled dressers are aware of the potential tip-over risk and the hazard it may pose for young children who climb on the unstable dressers. In 2019, the voluntary stability standard for clothing storage units, established by ASTM International, was also revised and now applies to dressers and chests 27 inches tall and taller.