Injuries Caused by Dangerous Furniture: Proving Liability and Pursuing Compensation

Families are devastated by injuries and deaths from dangerous furniture. Here’s where we look at furniture injuries, and who should pay for your damages.

In the United States, an injured child is sent to the emergency room every 30 minutes because of dangerous tipping and falling furniture.

Even worse, a child dies on average every two weeks from falling furniture, televisions, and appliances. ¹

People of all ages are at risk of serious health complications from exposure to chemical gasses emitted from wood-based and upholstered furniture. ²

Serious, sometimes fatal injuries can be caused by poorly constructed furniture, like collapsing chairs, broken shelves, and unsafe cribs and toddler beds. Unsafe cribs are responsible for more infant deaths than any other nursery furniture. ³

Furniture Injury Types and Causes

Thousands of injuries to all age groups are caused by dangerous furniture in the home. Some of the most common injuries include:

  • Bruises, cuts, and scrapes from falls caused by collapsing or tipping furniture
  • Head Trauma from falls caused by collapsing or tipping furniture
  • Broken bones and teeth from falls caused by collapsing or tipping furniture
  • Neck and spine injuries caused by collapsing or tipping furniture
  • Pinched fingers and hands from drawers, hinges, and lids
  • Strangulation from head and neck entrapment in defective furniture
  • Suffocation from entrapment in defective furniture or under tipped furniture.
  • Neurological damage from exposure to lead
  • Asthma, respiratory distress, eye irritation, and multiple other health problems caused by exposure to noxious gasses
  • Burns caused by rapidly burning upholstered furniture without adequate flame-retardant

Causes of furniture injuries include:

  • Poor construction
  • Defective design
  • Inadequate assembly or installation instructions
  • Off-gassing
  • Lead paint

Dangerous Furniture Construction and Design

Furniture that has a functional and safe design can still cause serious injuries if the materials are shoddy, or there are errors in the manufacturing process. For example:

  • Chairs that fall apart because the legs weren’t glued
  • Shelving that can’t hold the advertised weight load because of thin plastic brackets
  • Weak and splitting framework
  • Missing nails, screws or other fasteners

Defective and Dangerous Design

Furniture that was poorly designed can result in terrible injuries in the home.

Benches and toy chests with lids that can slam shut on a person’s head, arm or hands; chairs that wobble and tip; carts and office chairs with defective wheels; and the list goes on.

Children are at particular risk of death and injury at home from poorly designed furniture.

More than 10,000 children end up in emergency rooms every year because of dangerously designed cribs, playpens, and bassinets. The majority of those injuries are caused by children falling from or becoming wedged in cribs.

Experts agree that the number of injured children is much higher, as the study did not include visits to urgent care centers or doctor’s offices.

To stem the number of crib-related injuries and deaths, federal regulations were enacted  by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2010:

Safety Standards for Full-Size Baby Cribs and Non-Full-Size Baby Cribs

The final rule essentially does away with drop-side cribs, details how the different parts of a crib are held together to avoid loosening from “shaking’, and defines mattress standards to help prevent children from getting caught between the mattress and sides.

The rule also requires strict testing of the strength and placement of side slats in cribs, to prevent entrapment.

The standards apply to all cribs sold in the United States and prohibits the resale of used, non-compliant cribs. Child care centers are also required to use cribs that meet government safety regulations.

Tipping Furniture Can Be Deadly

On average, a child dies every two weeks from tipping furniture and televisions, and thousands more are injured.

Parents are urged to anchor furniture to the wall to prevent accidents, but that isn’t enough. After many injuries and fatalities, manufacturers are under the gun to design furniture that is stable and safe from tipping, even without an anchor.

Case Summary: Wrongful Death of Three Boys from Dangerous Dressers

A tipped-over Ikea dresser crushed two-year-old Curren Collas in 2014. Camden Ellis was also two-years-old when he died under an Ikea dresser in 2014. Theodore McGee was just shy of two when he died in 2015.

Attorneys for the families of the three boys filed wrongful death lawsuits against Ikea, alleging Ikea was negligent for selling unstable, poorly designed dressers.

Ikea recalled 29 million dangerous dressers, acknowledging the dressers could tip over and injure or kill small children.

Ikea settled with the families of the three boys for $50 million, to be divided equally among the three. Ikea also agreed to give $100,000 to a non-profit tip-over awareness program, and donate $50,000 each to three children’s hospitals in memory of Curren, Camden, and Theodore.

Furniture with Toxic Fumes

Volatile Organic Compounds (“VOCs”) are chemicals used in household products and furniture that can give off gasses that may impact your health. Concentrations of VOC gasses are always higher indoors than outside.

Exposure to VOCs can cause:

  • Irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Damage to the liver and kidneys
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Cancer

Symptoms of VOC exposure depends on how long the exposure occurred, the age and size of the person exposed, and the circumstances of the exposure, like an enclosed space.

Symptoms of VOC exposure may include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Breathing problems
  • Vision problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Memory loss

VOCs are often used in the production of wood-based products like particle board, fiberboard, and plywood. Budget-priced furniture like dressers, tables, bookcases, desks, and other common home furnishings are made from wood-based products.

Due to the risk of extended exposure to VOC’s in homes, the EPA has developed regulations governing the use of formaldehyde in making wood products:

Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products

The proposed regulations “established formaldehyde emission standards for hardwood plywood, particleboard, and medium density fiberboard.”

The regulations also provide a comprehensive program for testing and certifying product compliance with these standards.

Case Summary: Toxic Emissions from Furniture Harms Baby

The Bedner family bought a new Basset dresser for the nursery before Marian was born. The dresser was filled with baby clothes, linens, and blankets for the new baby girl. The family noticed an odor to the dresser they described as a “new” smell.

Healthy baby Marian came home from the hospital to her new room. She soon developed reddened eyes and breathing problems. Marian’s health problems progressed to include reactive asthma, gastric reflux, allergies, slow growth, and irritability.

Marian’s doctor diagnosed her illnesses as caused by “toxic effects of formaldehyde exposure.”

Through their attorney, the family filed a lawsuit against Basset for manufacturing a dresser that emitted dangerous levels of formaldehyde which injured their baby.

The Basset company argued that the family couldn’t prove a direct and proximate cause of Marian’s illnesses. Despite expert testimony provided by the Bednars, the lower court agreed with Basset.

However, the United States Court of Appeals decided in favor of the Bednar family, ruling in part:

“Based on this evidence, a jury could infer that it was more likely than not that baby Marian’s illnesses were caused by exposure to unsafe levels of formaldehyde emanating from the dresser.

The Bednars did not need to produce “a mathematically precise table equating levels of exposure with levels of harm” in order to show Marian’s level of exposure to gaseous formaldehyde, but only “evidence from which a reasonable person could conclude that [the dresser] probably caused” the harm about which they complain…

The Bednars had to [show] that the dresser exposed the baby to levels of gaseous formaldehyde known to cause the type of injuries she suffered. This they did.”

Lead Paint Used on Furniture

While the use of lead-based paint has been banned for decades, many homes have family heirloom furniture, valuable antiques, as well as thrift-shop treasures in every room. Great-aunt Tilly’s bedroom set or that antique rocker in the nursery may well be coated with a health threat.

Lead poisoning is caused by the build-up of lead in the body. Adults who renovate homes and furniture may be exposed to lead from paint dust. Children may be exposed by ingesting peeling paint from walls or furniture.

It doesn’t take much exposure to create serious health problems.

Ban of Consumer Products with Lead Paint

In 1977, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of lead-based paint on buildings, furniture, toys and other articles intended for use by children that bear ‘‘lead-containing paint.’’

Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Problems with memory or concentration
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mood disorders
  • Reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women

Symptoms of lead poisoning in children include:

  • Developmental delays
  • Learning disabilities
  • Irritability
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Sluggishness and fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Hearing loss
  • Seizures

Hazards from Upholstered Furniture

Upholstered furniture includes sofas, armchairs, mattresses, and any other furniture with padding, cushions or pillows.

Upholstered furniture adds beauty and comfort to a home, but can also expose members of the household to dangerous toxins used in the manufacture of furniture and mattresses.

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) were widely used to make upholstery fabrics stain, water and grease-resistant. The same kinds of chemicals were also used in carpeting and mattresses. Studies have shown that PFC exposure can cause cancer, birth defects, and liver problems. Use of PFCs is being phased out in the United States.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are widely used as flame retardants in a variety of products, including upholstered furniture and mattresses. Some animal studies have linked PBDEs to toxicity in multiple bodily systems, such as the nervous system.

However, the flame-retardant properties are valuable for human safety, and there is no good alternative to PBDEs currently available.

The fire-safety issue is so important that lawmakers have proposed adopting federal furniture flammability standards that mirror those currently in effect in California:

Safer Occupancy Furniture Flammability Act

The act is meant to set strict standards “designed to protect against the risk of occurrence of fire, or to slow or prevent the spread of fire, with respect to upholstered furniture.”

This standard intends to produce upholstered furniture which is safer from the hazards associated with smoldering ignition, like a burning cigarette. This standard provides methods for measuring the smolder resistance of cover fabrics, barrier materials and filling materials used in upholstered furniture.

Dangerous Furniture Injury Compensation

There are two general approaches to seeking compensation for injuries caused by dangerous furniture. Depending on the circumstances leading to the injury, you may pursue:

Premises Liability Claims

A premises liability claim would be made against the person responsible for the care and maintenance of the furniture that caused your injuries.

Homeowners have a legal obligation to make their homes and property safe for people invited onto the premises. This duty of care includes making sure the furniture inside and outside the home is reasonably safe from problems that could cause injury.

The homeowner should know someone could get hurt if the furniture in their home is broken, rickety, or unstable. Likewise, lawn and patio furniture that is rusted, weather-beaten, or broken may lead to injuries.

If a guest is injured because of damaged furniture and didn’t contribute to the cause of their injury, the victim has a legitimate claim for compensation against the homeowner. Usually, injury claims in a private residence are covered under the homeowner’s insurance policy.

Product Liability Claims

A product liability claim is made against the manufacturer or distributor of the dangerous furniture. You’ll need to show one or more categories of negligence created the danger:

  • Construction defects: the furniture would have been safe if they had built it correctly
  • Design defects: the furniture design was inherently unsafe
  • Marketing defects: the manufacturer failed to provide adequate instructions for safe use

When You Need an Attorney

If you were having coffee at a neighbor’s home when the kitchen chair slid out from under you, and you fell and broke your wrist, you likely have a premises liability claim against your neighbor.

If you only want to have your medical bills paid, you can probably settle your injury claim directly with your neighbor’s homeowner’s insurance company.

However, if you or your child were seriously injured by furniture that was dangerous due to the manufacturer’s negligence, you’ll need a personal injury attorney to reach a fair settlement or verdict.

Furniture manufacturers and distributors are often huge corporate entities, with armies of defense lawyers. They would rather spend thousands of dollars in legal fees than admit they caused you harm.

Product liability cases are extremely challenging to litigate. Your attorney will need to advance the cost for medical experts, as well as experts in the building and composition of the furniture involved in your injury.

During the discovery phase of your lawsuit, an experienced attorney knows exactly how to uncover important evidence you would never be able to get to on your own.

Most attorneys won’t charge for the initial consultation and will represent you on a contingency fee basis, meaning the attorney won’t get paid unless you reach a settlement or win your case in court.

There’s too much at stake to try handling a product liability case on your own. Talk to an attorney to find out what your case is really worth.

Dangerous Furniture Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>