A panel of federal judges has determined that all wrongful death lawsuits and other claims involving recalled Fisher-Price infant sleepers will be consolidated before one U.S. District Judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings, as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
There are currently at least 10 class action complaints and five individual injury cases filed in various federal courts nationwide following a Fischer-Price Rock’N’Play sleeper recall issued in April, which impacted nearly five million units already in U.S. homes, after dozens of infant deaths were linked to the product design.
The litigation has emerged since the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urged consumers earlier this year to stop using the sleepers by the time a child is three months old, at which time they may be able to roll over independently and suffocate due to the inclined sleeper design.
The CPSC linked the Fisher-Price sleepers to at least 32 infant deaths, and evidence suggests that the manufacturer knew or should have known about the risk of problems for years, yet delayed announcing a recall or warning.
The day after the recall announcement, the parents of a child who died in one of the millions of recalled sleepers filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturers and distributors, and a steady stream of additional injury, wrongful death and class action claims have been filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide.
In May, Fisher-Price and Mattel, Inc. filed a motion that requested the cases be consolidated before one judge in the Central District of California, to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of common witnesses, parties and the judicial system.
Some plaintiff opposed centralization through an MDL, indicating that informal coordination could achieve the same result, and some suggested that pretrial proceedings for the infant sleeper wrongful death lawsuits should be kept separate from the class actions, which will involve different questions of fact and law.
Following arguments presented last month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued a transfer order (PDF) on August 1, determining that the cases will be centralized in the Western District of New York, under U.S. District Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford.
“These actions share factual questions arising from allegations that Fisher-Price’s Rock ‘n Play Sleeper (RNPS) is unsafe because, among other reasons, its angled design does not allow infants to sleep in a supine position, which allegedly increases the risk that infants will suffer from positional asphyxia, plagiocephaly, and torticollis,” the judges wrote. “Plaintiffs uniformly allege that defendants’ advertising and marketing for the RNPS was false and misleading, and that Fisher-Price’s April 2019 recall of the RNPS was deficient.”
The judges indicated that they were not persuaded that alternative means of coordination would be as effective as a multidistrict litigation (MDL), and that any differences between the class action and wrongful death claims were outweighed by the risk of duplicative and complex discovery that will overlap in the litigation.
Following the coordinated pretrial proceedings, if a settlement agreement or other resolution is not reached, the cases may ultimately be transferred back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for separate trials in the future.