A Pennsylvania federal judge last month dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA), declaring that the Alliance did not share in the responsibility for a Florida toddler’s death in a furniture tip-over accident.
The lawsuit was filed in May 2019 by Meghan DeLong, whose son, Conner, was two when he died in May 2017 after an IKEA Hemnes eight-drawer dresser tipped over on him.
DeLong alleged that AHFA, along with ASTM International, were liable for her son’s death because of their roles in developing and promoting a voluntary stability standard for clothing storage furniture.
West Conshohocken, Pa.-based ASTM International has 30,000 members worldwide overseeing more than 12,500 product safety and technical standards. Subcommittees within the organization draw on technical experts from industry, along with government, consumer groups and others to develop “consensus” standards.
A Furniture Safety Subcommittee within ASTM oversees the furniture stability standard, F2057-19, and has updated it five times since it was first published in 2000. The subcommittee includes furniture engineers, product safety regulators, consumer advocates and parents, including DeLong.
Although IKEA has never been a member of AHFA, the suit claimed IKEA relied on AHFA’s endorsement of ASTM F2057 when it designed and manufactured the Hemnes eight-drawer dresser. The suit alleged the eight-drawer Hemnes complied with F2057, even though the two-drawer, three-drawer, five-drawer and six-drawer Hemnes models all were recalled for non-compliance with the standard in 2016. In all, 103 different IKEA chest and dresser models were recalled, totaling 17.3 million units.
“AHFA appreciates the judge’s thoughtful and well-reasoned opinion in this case, which concluded with his determination that neither AHFA nor ASTM International had a role in Conner DeLong’s tragic death,” said AHFA CEO Andy Counts.
Although AHFA encourages its members to understand and comply with the stability standard, the association had no authority to “govern” compliance with that standard, U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond noted.
DeLong also alleged in her suit that AHFA was negligent when it encouraged its members to comply with ASTM F2057. She claimed this negligent activity resulted in IKEA choosing to produce the Hemnes dresser in compliance with the voluntary standard, and that IKEA’s compliance created a duty on the part of AHFA to the end user of the IKEA product.
But Judge Diamond said trade associations that promote voluntary industry standards do not, under the law, assume a duty to the end users of products manufactured in accordance with those standards.
Judge Diamond concluded: “IKEA designed, manufactured and distributed the Hemnes dresser with all its attendant flaws.” Therefore, IKEA is “the entity primarily responsible for the harm its dresser may have caused.”
“AHFA strives to educate its members and the industry about safety standards and is the sole voice within the industry promoting compliance. This lawsuit sought to silence that voice,” Counts noted. “Ironically, had the suit been successful, it would have made all parties who participate in consensus standards development – including parents and consumer groups – culpable for the performance of products manufactured in compliance with those standards.”
Despite the lawsuit’s goal of removing AHFA and ASTM from efforts to produce safety standards for furniture, the two organizations have persisted:
- AHFA continues its “WE COMPLY” campaign, an effort to raise awareness of the voluntary stability standard among retail stores and to urge them to sell only bedroom storage furniture that complies with the standard.
- AHFA launched a new effort in January 2020 to increase consumer awareness of the voluntary furniture stability standard. The campaign asks manufacturers and retailers to add stability compliance details to product descriptions on their websites. The effort also urges participants to add information to their websites that urges parents to use furniture tip restraints with new and existing furniture in homes where small children are present.
- The ASTM Furniture Safety Subcommittee adopted another update to the stability standard in June 2019. It lowered the height of furniture covered by the standard from “over 30 inches” to “27 inches and taller.” The same update included updated language for the warning labels that must be permanently affixed to all furniture covered by the standard.
- AHFA continues supporting the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s “Anchor It” program and, in September, will promote furniture tip prevention as part of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association’s Baby Safety Month.