US Ikea US president backpedals on meeting parents of children killed by recalled dressers

16:50  06 november  2019
16:50  06 november  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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Three years after Ikea recalled the dresser that tipped onto and killed her son 2-year-old Camden, Crystal Ellis wrote to the president of Ikea’s U.S. operations and said more had to be done to get the deadly products out of American homes. His response surprised her. After explaining what Ikea had done to promote the recall, the executive, Javier Quiñones, said he wanted to meet.

a person wearing a blue shirt: Crystal EllisÕs son Camden died in June 2014 after a three-drawer Ikea dresser in his bedroom tipped onto him.  Ellis helped form Parents Against Tip-Overs, an advocacy group of those who have lost children to the danger.© Karen Ducey for USA TODAY Crystal EllisÕs son Camden died in June 2014 after a three-drawer Ikea dresser in his bedroom tipped onto him. Ellis helped form Parents Against Tip-Overs, an advocacy group of those who have lost children to the danger.

“Thank you again for your outreach, and we would be happy to meet with you in person,” Quiñones wrote in July.

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Ellis is still waiting for that meeting.

The Washington-state mother said Ikea representatives have so far rebuffed her attempts to take Quiñones up on his offer to meet with her and fellow members of Parents Against Tip-Overs, an advocacy group. The Ikea representatives informed Ellis that Quiñones can’t meet with the group until pending litigation against Ikea is resolved, but Ellis and other parents whose children died from tip-overs of Ikea dressers say they are unaware of any related lawsuits filed since Quiñones extended the invitation.

Ellis called it “an excuse” and said without knowing what litigation is holding up the meeting, she has no way to know when Ikea might be willing to meet.

“The opportunity to look them in the face and remind them of the impact on families, when they see us, was important to me,” Ellis said. “Maybe that one more face-to-face conversation would remind them that if they don’t get these dressers out of families home, that the result is more families like mine.”

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Ellis and other parents hoped to take Quiñones up on his offer this week, when many members of Parents Against Tip-Overs planned to be in the Philadelphia region, where Ikea’s U.S. headquarters is located, to attend a meeting on the furniture industry’s dresser safety standard.

Tracey Kelly, the corporate communications manager for Ikea U.S., said in a statement to USA TODAY that Quiñones is still happy to meet with the parents, after “ongoing litigation” — which she declined to specify — is settled.

“We apologize that this was not clear in the original letter,” Kelly said. “Mr. Quiñones understands that the families may be frustrated that the suggested timing doesn’t work. He looks forward to meeting with the group once litigation has been resolved to talk about how, together, we can continue to address this important issue that impacts the entire home furnishings industry.”

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Ikea dressers have been linked to dozens of injuries and the deaths of at least nine children. Many of the incidents happen when a child attempts to pull themself up on the dressers or to climb the drawers like stairs, sending the unit crashing forward.

The company’s 2016 recall, negotiated with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, includes 17.3 million dressers, many from the company’s popular Malm line.

Kelly told USA TODAY that in the three years since the recall was announced, the company has destroyed 420,000 returned dressers and provided an additional 1.05 million anchoring kits to consumers. Many more of the 17.3 million bureaus were likely anchored with the included tip-restraints at the time that they were purchased, or have since been thrown out, Kelly said.

Ikea has addressed recent concerns from safety advocates by increasing how often it promotes the recall online, Kelly said.

But the safety advocates stress that there are likely millions of unstable, unsecured Ikea dressers remaining in American bedrooms today. Ikea should be doing more to get those products out of homes, they argue, including by promoting the recall with the same effort that it once marketed the products for sale.

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“Ikea has marketing expertise,” said Rachel Weintraub, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America. “We want them to use their expertise, to use their media and communications frameworks and tools, to specifically alert consumers to the dangers of these recalled products. And to be unequivocal about removing these recalled dressers from their homes.”

Providing anchoring kits is not enough because consumers may not use them, or the dressers could be resold or handed down to others unaware of the danger, Weintraub said.

Ellis made similar points in her letter to Quiñones, which was sent on behalf of Parents Against Tip-Overs and signed by herself and two other members.

Quiñones, who took over as head of the retail giant’s U.S. division in March, wrote back that the company has taken an “aggressive approach” to reach consumers, including through a national television campaign, direct emails to those known to have purchased recalled products, and both in-store and online ads.

“We take the communication of this recall very seriously, and would certainly be interested in hearing your thoughts on what additional actions we can take to get the message out to even more consumers,” Quiñones wrote. He closed with the invitation to meet.

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Janet McGee, who has celebrated each birthday her son Teddy has missed with a cake decorated in a theme she thinks he would have grown to like — monsters one year, farm animals another — said she saw the invitation as a potential fresh start between her family and Ikea.

“They never even publicly apologized to us as parents when our children died. It was more, ‘Our condolences to the family. Remember, you should be anchoring your furniture to the wall,’ ” said McGee, whose son was 22-months old when he died on Valentine’s Day in 2016 after getting trapped beneath the Malm dresser in his Minnesota bedroom. “I thought this was going to be a new chapter of actually working with us instead of throwing us under the bus.”

Now, she feels "back to square one."

“I thought we were making progress," she said. "And I guess we’re not now.”

Ellis and McGee said they know of only one active tip-over related lawsuit against the company, filed by the family of a 2-year-old California boy who died in a tip-over in 2017. His family alleges in the lawsuit that they were unaware the dresser had been recalled. Their lawsuit was filed in June 2018, before Quiñones extended his invitation to the parents.

Ellis and McGee, who along with a third family reached a $50 million settlement with Ikea in 2016, said they had no plans to discuss the active case with Quiñones.

Tip-overs have been an intractable danger for decades.

A child dies, on average, once every two weeks when a piece of furniture, television of appliance falls forward on them, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. About 28,000 people are injured in tip-overs every year, more than half of them children.

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The furniture industry has addressed the threat through a safety standard, meant to ensure that products that comply can remain upright — even when not anchored to the wall — when pulled on by a child.

But the standard is voluntary, and Ikea for years sold dressers that did not comply. The company has said its bureaus are designed to be anchored to the wall and that it includes tip restraints for that purpose. Ikea says all its bureaus now comply with the standard.

Crystal Ellis plays with her daughter, Caiya Ellis, 2, at a park in Kenmore, WA on November 1, 2019.© Karen Ducey for USA TODAY Crystal Ellis plays with her daughter, Caiya Ellis, 2, at a park in Kenmore, WA on November 1, 2019.

Ellis said she lives in earthquake country and had tethered many things to the walls of her home: bookcases, a china hutch, televisions. She said she never considered anchoring the Malm dresser that tipped onto Camden. The squat bureau — just 30-inches tall — didn’t seem deadly, until it was.

Five years later, she still wakes each morning to a moment of peace, before she remembers what has happened. Once she has, she feels Camden’s absence everywhere. Even family photos feel wrong to her. Sometimes, she and her husband add a picture of Camden into the frame, beside the two sisters who have no memories of him.

It only makes the problem clearer.

“I don’t get to take more pictures. I don’t get to watch him learn how to ride a bike, and make his first friends, and meet the love of his life, and dance with him at his wedding, and hold his children as my grandbabies,” she said. “I don’t get to be a part of that because a manufacturer decided that they were not obligated to make furniture that’s free standing that won’t fall over.”

Tricia L. Nadolny is a reporter on the USA Today investigations team. She can be reached at tnadolny@usatoday.com or @TriciaNadolny.

I own an Ikea dresser. Now what?

Was my dresser part of the recall?

If you own a Malm dresser sold between 2002 and mid-2016, there is a good chance it was recalled. But there are more than 100 other lines of Ikea dressers included as well. A full list of products, along with steps for taking part in the recall, is available at www.ikea-usa.com/saferhomestogether.

I own a recalled dresser. Should I keep it or get rid of it?

If it is not anchored, first make sure it cannot be reached by children.

The recall allows people to keep or return the item, but safety advocates recommend that the dressers be removed from homes, because of the concern that they will not be anchored or they will later be used by someone unaware of the recall. Many of the recalled dressers can be returned for a full refund. Consumers can bring the dresser to the any Ikea retailer, or Ikea will come pick it up from your home, free of charge.

I want to keep my Ikea dresser. What are my options?

You should anchor it to the wall. You can request a free wall anchoring kit from Ikea and install it yourself, or Ikea will send someone to your home to attach it for you, free of charge.

Do I need a receipt to take part in the recall?

Typically a receipt is not required, but Ikea says that it can request a receipt based on the total number of dressers being returned by one customer.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ikea US president backpedals on meeting parents of children killed by recalled dressers

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