Are retailers liable if a product fails STURDY?

HIGH POINT – The STURDY Act (Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act) was signed into law Dec. 23, 2022. There are still lots of questions regarding the new rule – particularly what the new standard will look like and when it will come into fruition.

The Act requires the Consumer Product Safety Commission to adopt an updated version of the ASTM International F2057 voluntary standard as a new mandatory safety rule, if it is found to meet all performance requirements outlined in STURDY.

Dressers and all clothing storage units will have to pass safety tests that simulate real-world use, for instance, placement on carpeting, drawers with items in them and the dynamic force a toddler exerts when climbing a dresser or pulling on a drawer.

Furniture Today reached out to Philadelphia-based personal injury law firm Feldman Shephard, which has recovered nearly $100 million for families who lost toddlers to tip-overs of Ikea dressers. We asked about liability, as well as the damages furniture companies are looking at if a product fails to meet the standard.

Could retailers be liable for selling products that don’t meet the STURDY requirements?

In many states, in addition to manufacturer liability for defective products, retailers are responsible for product defects,” said Daniel J. Mann, shareholder at the firm. “The reasoning behind this is that an injured victim shouldn’t bear the result of an injury if a product manufacturer is insolvent or uninsured/underinsured, especially when they profit from the sale of a product. If a retailer were to sell a dresser that does not meet the STURDY requirements, and the dresser tipped over and caused an injury or a death, a retailer could be held liable. Additionally, retailers should take steps to ensure that the products that they sell meet all applicable design standards.

What steps do you recommend companies (both manufacturers and retailers) take to be sure they meet the requirements?

Manufacturers should obviously be aware of all relevant design standards that would apply to their products. With respect to clothing storage units, the ASTM standards should be consulted at every phase of the design process.

In our experience, the majority of tip over injury and death claims occur where the manufacturer deliberately ignores performance testing standards or was unaware of standards and designed/sold non-compliant furniture. However, while compliance with standards will not necessarily eliminate the possibility of designing and selling a defective product, it goes a long way towards minimizing that risk.

What sorts of damages are companies looking at if a product doesn’t meet the standard and someone is injured?

Damages can be very significant, especially where a tip over results in the death of a small child. In addition to wrongful death damages which often include lost earnings and loss of family contributions, survival damages include awards for pain and suffering.

Additionally, if a manufacturer’s conduct is considered reckless, punitive damages can be awarded.

Stay tuned for more STURDY updates.

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