The family of a child who died last year in a Winnie the Pooh bassinet has filed suit against the Walt Disney Co. It’s alleged that the company allowed sales of the bassinets despite a flawed design that had been linked to another baby’s death in 2007. As we reported in a prior issue, the bassinet had a drop-down side for easy access. But the design created a gap where babies could slide through and hang to death. The baby was only six months old when she was strangled on August 21, 2008. Shortly after her death, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission directed retailers to stop selling the bassinets, which were manufactured by Simplicity, Inc. Walt Disney’s consumer products division licensed its Winnie the Pooh name and image to Simplicity.
The suit, filed in California state court in Los Angeles, involves a common practice in the nursery products industry. Companies that license their names and characters to manufacturers of products can be responsible when those products turn out to be defective. Under California law a licensor can be held legally responsible for a defective product. Charles Kelly, a San Francisco lawyer, represents the baby’s parents.
Walt Disney Co. takes the position that it is not responsible and says “the functional and structural design as well as the manufacture and sale of Simplicity bassinets were solely the responsibility of Simplicity, Inc.” The manufacturer was responsible to see that the product was in compliance with “legal and industry safety standards,” according to Disney. Simplicity collapsed earlier this year in the wake of major crib recalls and babies’ deaths. SFCA Inc., an affiliate of private-equity fund Blackstreet Capital Partners and a Simplicity creditor, purchased the Pennsylvania firm’s assets at a foreclosure sale in May of last year. When the safety commission sought to recall the bassinets in August, the agency noted that SFCA had “refused to cooperate with the government and recall the products.” At the time, SFCA said in a written statement that it was not liable for products manufactured by Simplicity. SFCA subsequently went out of business. Many retailers, however, are still offering refunds to consumers who return these bassinets.
It should be noted that about 11 months before the death of the baby in this case, a four-month-old Missouri baby, Katelyn Marie Simon, died after getting trapped in a Simplicity-branded bassinet that shared the same design as the Winnie the Pooh bassinets. As a result, it’s alleged in the suit that Disney knew or should have known about the death and should have halted sales of the bassinets before this unit was purchased.
Source: Chicago Tribune
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