The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates over 2 million people are treated each year for injuries caused by dangerous furniture (1). Injuries are caused by faulty bookcases, dressers, desks, chairs, bureaus, televisions and more.
Many pieces of furniture aren’t inherently dangerous, but become so when combined with other factors. Examples include children hanging on bookcases or TVs, or frail individuals using chairs to steady themselves while walking.
The old adage is true, “You get what you pay for.” Next to one another, two pieces of furniture may look alike. That bookcase selling for $200 looks just like the one selling for $600. Why buy the expensive bookcase when the cheaper one looks the same?
Because poor construction can have serious consequences. The cheaper bookcase is made with particle board, while the more expensive one is made of solid wood. If heavily used over time, or made to bear significant weight, the cheaper bookcase will likely break, causing injury or even death.
Common injuries from dangerous furniture:
Children are most often injured by furniture, such as armoires, bookcases, and dressers, which topple over onto them. This tipping over can be caused by poor weight distribution, uneven floor surfaces, faulty design, a child hanging onto them, or a combination of these factors.
Lamps can be quite dangerous in the home. Each year thousands of people sustain second and third degree burns from defective lamps, hot light bulbs, and defective electrical wiring. Lamp bulbs should be the wattage recommended by the manufacturer.
Even the highest quality lamps can topple over when not placed safely. Lamps should be grounded whenever called for. Failure to do so can cause electric shock to anyone who touches an exposed piece of its wiring. Also, electrical lines running from the lamps must be hidden to avoid anyone tripping and injuring themselves.
Every day in the United States, people are poisoned by their furniture, or more specifically, the materials used in its construction.
Did you know the supple leather of a beautiful sofa may be poisoning you, little by little each day? Maybe you’re experiencing chronic headaches, you’ve developed a rash, or your eyes are tearing for no apparent reason. If so, there’s a chance your symptoms are being caused by subtle poisoning.
Leather is most commonly made from cowhide, which in its natural state doesn’t contain dangerous chemicals. But by the time that leather sofa rolls off the truck into your home, it’s gone through a manufacturing process of chemical tanning, coloring, and the addition of formaldehyde and fungicides to help preserve the leather.
Formaldehyde is a toxic carcinogen. Fungicides are chemical compounds used to kill fungi or inhibit fungal spores in the leather. That’s some terrible stuff! And if your new furniture has any plastic on it, it’s likely been treated with polyvinyl chloride, another toxic chemical compound.
Outdoor Furniture Injuries
During the spring and summer months, many of us enjoy barbecuing outdoors, entertaining guests, playing sports, and just lounging on our decks and patios. When summer ends we cover our outdoor furniture or put it away until spring.
Many of us use the same patio furniture for years, giving little thought to its age. The only time we think about replacing it is when it goes out of style, the fabric starts to tear, the metal corrodes, or the hinges give way.
Furniture left outside in the elements, even when covered, ages faster than if put away for the season. Hinges become rusted, fabric becomes weaker, and metal fatigues. Whether protected from the elements or left outside, dangerous furniture can be a serious liability to a homeowner.
Like indoor furniture, when it comes to outdoor furniture there are varying grades of quality. Some of the less expensive brands are made from thin aluminum and plastic fabric. Higher quality patio furniture is usually constructed with stronger steel and much stronger weather resistant fabric.
Common injuries from dangerous patio furniture include:
- Cuts and abrasions from sharp edges
- Infections from cuts on rusted metal pieces
- Deep wounds caused by a combination of collapsing furniture and ragged edges
- Broken bones or head trauma from falling off broken patio chairs
Who’s responsible for your injuries?
Product liability claims are filed against a manufacturer or retailer of a defective product that causes injury. If you are injured due to dangerous furniture, your case will proceed as a product liability action.
If the bed frame you bought a few years ago on sale for $50 breaks, and your grandmother falls and hits her head, you probably don’t have much of a case. The courts will look at the entire transaction and make a decision based on what a reasonable person should expect from a fifty dollar bed frame, which isn’t much.
But if you paid $500 for the bed frame, and the manufacturer and retailer advertised, “Built to Last a Lifetime,” then you may be able to recover for your grandmother’s injuries. That’s the legal way of saying you would have a good case against the manufacturer and retailer.
When it comes to dangerous furniture and other household products, it’s important to know the legal distinction between “puffing” and “false advertising.”
A furniture store may advertise their furniture as, “The most comfortable you’ve ever sat on,” or “The best buy for the money.” These statements are commonly referred to as puffery. They are not harmful and rarely enforceable.
Homeowners have a legal duty of care 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 safe from defects which could cause injury.
When, as a result of a broken piece of furniture, a non-family member becomes injured, the victim has a legitimate claim against the homeowner via his homeowner’s insurance company.
Exception: Contributory and Comparative Negligence
An exception to homeowners liability and product liability may occur when the injured person acts negligently and contributes to his or her own injuries.
Example: Negligent neighbor
John invited his neighbor Alex over for a pool party. Alex was six feet tall and weighed two hundred pounds. He decided to stand on the seat of an old patio chair made of aluminum, with pieces of plastic stretched over the seating area.
As he stood up on the chair, all two hundred pounds of him crashed through the seat onto the ground. He broke his ankle in the fall.
Even though Alex clearly contributed to his own injury, he sued John for his medical bills and pain and suffering. The courts ruled against Alex, stating that in their opinion, a “reasonable and prudent” two hundred pound man should know standing on a thin plastic seat is dangerous. As a result, John was not held liable for Alex’s injury.
Example: Ignoring the manufacturer’s warning
Aidan purchased a new table lamp for his study. The manufacturer had placed a clearly visible sticker on the lamp warning against using any bulb higher than 40 watts. Aidan ignored the warning and screwed in a 100 watt bulb.
That evening, the intense heat generated by the bulb burned through the lamp shade, causing a fire. John was seriously burned. He sued the manufacturer and the retailer for negligence.
In this case, the court ruled against Aidan. In its opinion, the court stated a reasonable and prudent user would pay attention to the manufacturer’s warning, which Aidan did not. His contribution to his own injuries freed the manufacturer and retailer from liability.
The Role of Attorneys
When injuries from dangerous furniture are serious, such as broken bones or head trauma, you will need the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney.
Without an attorney, the manufacturer and retailer (and their insurance companies), will likely offer you much less than your case is worth. They know without an attorney you have little leverage. In those cases, insurance companies often have a “take it or leave it” attitude.
With an attorney, insurance companies snap to attention. They don’t want to go through depositions, pretrial court hearings, and more. If liability is clear, your attorney should be able to get the insurance company to settle for a fair amount.
For less serious injuries, often referred to as “soft tissue” injuries, you can probably handle your own case. These include minor cuts and abrasions, 1st degree burns, sprained muscles and ligaments, etc.
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