When people walk into a furniture store, they often have a few ideas about what they want to buy: wood or metal material? Light or dark? Traditional or modern? These are the typical questions that most furniture stores receive.
But what about safety? A recent study published by Consumer Report found that furniture tip-over injuries accounted for 2,800 injuries in 2016. The previous year only documented 2,100 cases-a 33% jump. Even more illuminating, most victims of tip-overs are under the age of six.
This suggests that there may be hidden concerns as to weight distribution in furniture that is made in the 21st century. Dressers that tip over tend to be lighter and are not weighted sufficiently in the back of the dresser.
Despite the ever-increasing number of accidents involving tip-overs, those within the industry do not seem to want to change their ways. There's no official or mandatory safety standards that furniture manufacturers must follow before their products are marketed to the general public. As a result, generally speaking, manufacturers cannot be held to a legally mandated standard.
However, a potential plaintiff can bring a lawsuit against the manufacturer for a design defect. Most courts use the "risk-utility" test to determine legal liability. A court will look at the overall effectiveness and use of the product, and cross-examine that with the potential risk that the product poses to the user. Factors that a court will look at include:
1) The overall utility of the product;
2) Likelihood and severity of potential harm;
3) Availability of substitute (and potentially safer) products;
4) Manufacturer's ability to safely design out the danger;
5) User's ability to avoid harm by using the product safely;
6) User's awareness of warnings, either by common knowledge or warning labels;
Often, a court's ability to determine liability for a manufacturer comes down to what's known as a "safer alternative design." This means that the manufacturer could have designed the product to be safer for consumers, but chose otherwise. This also includes (as mentioned above) substitute products. For example, if Furniture Maker A manufactured a dresser that caused a significant injury risk to toddlers, but Furniture Maker B designed a similar dresser that was much safer in design, this factor would weigh strongly against Furniture Maker A, because they knew it was feasible to create a dresser that was safer (given other products on the market) but chose not to implement reasonable safety measures to protect the consumer.
Additionally, It is highly recommended that people anchor their furniture to their walls and refrain from putting TVs on top of dressers. Unfortunately, this is not always possible for those who do not own their own homes, or for those do not have experience with tools. Most notably, 46% of deaths occur in the bedroom. It is suggested that parents should close drawers and remove any other loose items that children could conceivably climb.
If you, or a family member has been injured from falling furniture, give us a call today.