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Federal Judges To Consider Consolidation of Fisher-Price Sleeper Infant Death lawsuits

A panel of federal judges will consider oral arguments next week for a request to centralize the growing number of lawsuits filed nationwide over recalled Fisher-Price Rock’n’Play infant sleepers, after the product design was linked to dozens of infant deaths in recent years.

On April 17, Fisher-Price announced an infant sleeper recall, which impacted nearly five million units that were already in U.S. homes.

The action was taken after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urged consumers 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 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. In the aftermath, a number of individual wrongful death lawsuits and class action claims have been filed in courts nationwide, each raising similar allegations.

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.

That was followed by several Fisher-Price infant sleeper class action lawsuits brought on behalf of consumers who purchased the sleepers believing them to be safe, seeking reimbursement for the money they spent buying the dangerous and defective sleepers.

At least 10 separate complaints are now pending in four different federal court districts, and the size of the litigation is expected to continue to grow in the coming months and years.

In May, Fisher-Price and Mattel, Inc. filed a motion before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), calling for the claims to be consolidated before one judge in the Central District of California for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

Some plaintiffs have opposed centralization through an MDL, saying coordination can be achieved by through more informal means, and some have 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.

In an opposition brief (PDF) submitted on June 28, plaintiffs indicate that there are currently only a few filed cases, and a handful of attorneys involved in the litigation, arguing that informal coordination can achieve the objectives of reducing duplicative discovery and avoiding contradictory pretrial schedules, without establishing a court-ordered multi-district litigation (MDL).

Defendants filed their own reply brief (PDF) on July 3, indicating that all of the plaintiffs’ claims are substantially similar and could be addressed in a consolidated fashion in pretrial proceedings.

According to a Notice of Hearing Session (PDF), the JPML will consider the motion during an upcoming hearing scheduled for July 25 in Portland, Oregon.

If the JPML agrees to consolidate the cases into a multidistrict litigation (MDL), all pretrial proceedings would be handled by one judge, but 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 trial.

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