IKEA, the multinational home furnishings company, has recalled millions of its dressers and chests after another child’s death has been linked to the products. This latest incident involved a 22-month-old boy from Minnesota who was killed when a six-drawer dresser tipped over and crushed him. This is not the first time that IKEA products have brought tragedy. Numerous cases of children and toddlers being killed as a result of these dressers sold by IKEA have been reported in the past few decades.
This recall comes subsequent to the company’s aim to prevent such accidents from occurring. A repair program had been announced, which aimed to encourage parents to anchor these dressers to the wall. Now, with the latest incident, IKEA is forced to recall such products. Should IKEA be held responsible for such incidents? Is this a clear case of products liability? Should the parents be at least partially responsible?
As a product that is sold and distributed by IKEA, they could be held liable for their role as distributor. Also, whoever manufactured the product could potentially be held liable as well. All the same, it is difficult to pin the deaths to IKEA or the manufacturer. The product design seems not to have flaws and only if it is handled recklessly can such tragic incidents actually happen. For starters, other dressers distributed by other such retail chains have similar features as the ones under the IKEA name.
With the IKEA dressers, there does not seem to be any blatant defects with the product. The consumer should know upon purchase that these things could be dangerous if handled carelessly. An argument can be made that these dressers should have come with hooks or some form of wall support. This would ultimately be a weak argument as many such dressers these days don’t come with such accessories.
The Parents Were Negligent, not IKEA
As for negligence standards, based on which state the incident occurred, either comparative or contributory negligence standard would be applied. Under the comparative framework, the plaintiff will only recover up to the amount that they are not liable for. In other words, if the plaintiff’s negligence was at all responsible for the death of the child, then a certain percentage would be deducted from the recovery. Under contributory framework, which is slowly fading out and is frowned upon by the legal community, if plaintiff is even 1% at fault, then they will have no recovery.
For instance, if the parents left the child to himself and he is hurt by the dresser, it is the parents’ fault. They should have known better than to allow their child to be around something as unstable as a dresser. Under the comparative standard, the parents could partially recover from IKEA and under the contributory framework, they would not be entitled to any damages.
The standard of care for parents is adults of same age and like-mindedness. Standard of care is used when determining if someone has been negligent or not. Most parents would know better than to leave their children around dangerous objects. It would likely be the case that placing your child in the vicinity of the dresser in question would likely be a sign of negligence. Children are not aware that these dressers are unstable. It is up to the parent to use common sense to ensure that the child is safe from harm. You can’t just go suing anyone you like whenever something happens. As cliché as it sounds, sometimes you have to take responsibility for your actions.
IKEA should not be held responsible in cases like this. Now if the dresser had a faulty design that the parents could not have avoided under any circumstance or if it was a recurring problem, then they would have a better case against IKEA. Even though many related cases have been made against IKEA with regards to these dressers, it seems that the parents in these cases deserve some blame too. This is not a typical products liability case. Honda recently had a major recall because of defective airbags. With regards to Honda, that is a blatant defect which the driver has no control over. The scenario posed here with the parents and the dresser is more line with say a driver who gets into a car accident while he was texting. There is a good degree of negligence involved.
Assumption of Risk Could Protect IKEA
Furthermore, IKEA has a good case of assumption of risk. Assumption of risk is a defense against a personal injury and other related claims. Assumption of risk, just as it sounds, is when the plaintiff knowingly assumes the risk when it comes to something. The defendant, aka IKEA, is free from liability if they can establish assumption of risk.
For example, in a jet ski trip, there usually is an assumption of risk as the person riding the jet ski knows and is aware of such inherent dangers that the activity poses. The defendant must establish that the plaintiff knows or is aware of such a risk before assumption of risk kicks in. A contract is one way of establishing that an assumption of risk exists. Whether there was terms and conditions that had to be signed by buyer when purchase was made is not known at this time. With a ski trip or skydiving or other such activity, it is rather easy to establish that assumption of risk has been made.
Here, it is a bit tricky to establish whether the parents knew that a dresser could pose any risk. Personally, although not so obvious, it seems like there are some dangers to a dresser. If parents are not willing to have kids play with small items, what makes us think that they don’t consider a dresser as a possible threat? Going back to the standard of care, it is more reasonable to believe that the parents do believe that dressers and chests and other pieces of furniture can pose some danger, especially around their kids. At the end of the day, both IKEA and the parents have a case to make but if I had to bet on it, IKEA is in a better position.
Authored by Sam Behbehani, LegalMatch Legal Writer