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Ikea, the company known for affordable, flat-pack furniture that buyers must assemble themselves, has agreed to settle three wrongful death cases filed against it for $50 million. The three cases, filed in the state court in Pennsylvania, claim that the furniture maker was negligent in not manufacturing their dressers to meet industry standards, which resulted in the death of three toddlers (in three separate incidents) who were crushed when the dressers toppled over onto them.
Ikea has settled a few other lawsuits with similar claims over the last decade, and reports indicate that this may have been a known issue dating all the way back to 1989. All in all, there have been seven reported deaths due to unstable Ikea furniture.
Product Liability for Consumer Assembled Furniture
In the recently settled case, Ikea had argued that the parents were to blame because they had failed to anchor the dressers to the wall, per their assembly instructions and warnings. However, it is a very common practice that people ignore the last step of anchoring furniture to the wall. The large settlement payout, according to the attorney for the plaintiffs, reflects that the company knows the parents were not to blame.
Generally, a company can insulate some, but not all, liability as a result of user error when assembling or using a product. Additionally, liability may be avoided if adequate warnings are provided to warn consumers of the dangers of using (or misusing) their product. However, in this case, it was expected that Ikea would struggle to convince a jury that the parents were at fault for their children's deaths because they failed to anchor the dressers to the wall.
Ikea Dresser Recall
This past June, Ikea issued a recall on several models of their dressers because they did not meet the voluntary safety and stability standards in the USA. Nearly 30 million Ikea dressers are subject to the recall.
In addition to the monetary portion of the settlement, Ikea has agreed to stop selling all dressers that do not meet the voluntary safety and stability standards in the USA. Additionally, they have agreed to ramp-up and increase funding for its "Secure It" program, which is designed to educate consumers about the importance of anchoring furniture to prevent injuries.