Hundreds of mom-and-pop baby gear retailers could be liable to replace or refund purchases of millions drop-side cribs made by now defunct crib makers, according to a plan under consideration by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Earlier this month, the CPSC recalled more than 2 million drop-side cribs from seven different manufacturers. That recall came after 250 reports of drop-sides detaching or failing; 16 infants were entrapped in the crib rails. While no children died in these reports, one was hospitalized.
The CPSC has announced it plans to ban the manufacture of drop-side cribs by year-end, declaring the design unsafe.
This decision has left the CPSC with a dilemma: what to advise consumers who are using a drop-side crib that is NOT subject to recall? And what about cribs made by companies that are now out of business, so-called zombie crib makers? Millions of these cribs are still in use today.
We asked the CPSC about these two issues. On the first point, the CPSC pointed us to a video on their web site that answered the question: "Are all drop-side cribs bad?"
The government's two-word answer: "not necessarily."
Now that's reassuring.
The CPSC goes on to say that while the recalled cribs had safety problems, ALL drop-side cribs are less structurally sound than static side cribs, and hence subject to problems from "being moved, storage and assembly."
That sounds like guilt by association. Just because Toyota just recalled vehicles with faulty engines that could stall . . . does that mean Honda vehicles are a similar risk? After all, both use gas-powered engines that might fail in the same way.
Granted, there were some dangerous drop-side cribs made in the last decade. Cheap importers like Simplicity (now gone, thankfully) made cribs that were clearly defective. And companies like Delta and Evenflo deserve the criticism for their defective hardware which caused their side rails to fail. In the past year, we have chronicled the numerous problems of crib makers like Jardine that made cribs with defective slats.
The problem with drop-side cribs goes deeper than just a few bad apples. After all, any company can make a defective product . . . and should be held accountable. But the government also points out that many of the problems with drop-side cribs come from bad assembly (whose fault is that?), failure to maintain the crib by making sure the bolts are tightened (who should be doing that?) and missing hardware (when a crib is disassembled and then reassembled).
By that standard, then all baby products should be banned---because they can be miss-assembled . . . or improperly maintained . . . or somehow fail.
Among our biggest concerns here is the CPSC's lack of overall strategy on this problem. By moving piecemeal in announcing recalls, the government has sewn unnecessary anxiety among parents---is it safe to use a drop-side crib not subject to recall? This has prompted several crib makers (including Baby's Dream and Young America by Stanley) to issue public statements this week, declaring their drop-sides to be safe.
But . . . it's clear that the CPSC plans to force all drop-side cribs off the market sooner or later---leaving parents, crib makers and retailers in limbo.
Even more troubling than the vague pronouncements of the CPSC on the safety of drop-side crib recalls is the issue of zombie crib makers---those companies that made millions of cribs, but now are out of business (for reasons unrelated to safety). Examples include Morigeau, Generation 2/Child Designs, Kinderkraft, MIBB, Tracers, and others. And then you have companies like Ragazzi, who went out of business and sold assets to new owners who disclaim responsibility for the old Ragazzi cribs.
When asked by BABY BARGAINS what the CPSC plans to do on this issue, a spokesperson told us "they are working on it."
Sorry, guys, that's not good enough.
According to a retailer who met with the CPSC on this issue earlier in the year, it is the government's intention to hold RETAILERS who sold these cribs responsible for their replacement. This departs from the government's long-standing policy to hold manufactures responsible for safety problems.
Of course, if a crib company isn't around any more to send out "immobilizer kits" (to stop a drop-side crib rail from dropping), what happens now? Should the retailer who sold the crib be responsible for taking the crib back and issuing a full refund? Even if the crib is five or 10 years old? Are consumers supposed to find a receipt from 2005 to claim their refund?
This could leave hundreds of mom-and-pop retailers on the hook for millions of dollars in refunds . . . for selling cribs whose design was completely legal at the time of sale? Zombie crib companies like Morigeau made cribs that sold for $500 to $900 each. Since many of these retailers are reeling from the economy, we can envision this new mandate would force dozens of stores to close rather than be on the hook for this. And that helps the cause of safety . . . how?
We expect the Consumer Product Safety Commission to act to make sure cribs sold on the market are safe. But their bungled handling of drop-side crib concerns raises serious questions about the competency of safety regulators.