Ikea will pay $62 million to parents of California toddler crushed to death by a dresser

A photo provided by lawyer Alan M. Feldman shows two-year-old Jozef Dudek, who was crushed to death in May 2017 by a popular Ikea dresser model that had been recalled after at least five other child fatalities. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Swedish furniture retailer Ikea agreed to pay a US$46 million (S$62 million) settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the parents of a California toddler who was crushed to death by a dresser.

The popular dresser model had been recalled after at least five other fatalities involving children.

On Monday (Jan 6), a lawyer for Joleen and Craig Dudek, whose son, Jozef, was killed in May 2017, announced the settlement, which was confirmed by an Ikea spokesman.

In 2016, Ikea reached a US$50 million settlement with three other families with children who were killed by furniture that had toppled over.

The Dudeks sued Ikea in 2017 in state court in Pennsylvania, where Ikea's North American headquarters is based, arguing that the furniture-maker knew that its Malm line of dressers was prone to tip-overs and had failed to warn customers of the unstable design.

The company first offered free wall-anchoring kits to its millions of customers as part of a repair programme before issuing a recall in June 2016. The Dudeks, of Buena Park, California, bought the dresser in 2008 and said in the lawsuit that they were never alerted to the recall by Ikea.

On May 24, 2017, when Mr Dudek went to check on Jozef in a bedroom where he had been sleeping, he found his son pinned beneath the drawers of the 32kg dresser that had toppled onto him, according to the lawsuit. The boy died later that day from asphyxia caused by mechanical compression of the neck, the lawsuit said.

"We miss him so much," the Dudeks said on Monday in a statement issued through their lawyer, Mr Alan M. Feldman. "He would be turning five years old this April.

"We never thought that a two-year-old could cause a dresser just 76cm high to topple over and suffocate him. It was only later that we learnt that this dresser was unstable by design and did not meet safety standards, and that this had happened to other little boys."

An Ikea spokesman said in a statement on Monday that the company had taken steps to try to raise awareness of the safety hazards of tip-overs, including requiring safety training for employees.

"While no settlement can alter the tragic events that brought us here, for the sake of the family and all involved, we're grateful that this litigation has reached a resolution," the Ikea spokesman said. "We remain committed to working proactively and collaboratively to address this very important home safety issue. Again, we offer our deepest condolences."

Consumer product safety groups say that Jozef's death was not an isolated case. They have pressed members of Congress to pass the Stop Tip-overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth Act or Sturdy Act, which would require the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to develop safety rules for free-standing clothing storage units to protect children from death or injury from tip-overs.

Since 2011, at least five other children have been killed when various models of the Malm dresser tipped over, according to the Dudeks' lawsuit, which said that an additional 91 children had been injured before Jozef's death.

"If a two-year-old can tip over a three-drawer dresser, you know there's something wrong with that dresser," Mr Feldman, the lawyer for the Dudeks, said in an interview on Monday. "There's millions and millions of them in American homes."

At the time of the Ikea recall in June 2016, the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Mr Elliot F. Kaye, warned of the dangers of the falling dressers.

"If you have or think you have one of these products, act immediately," he said. "It is simply too dangerous to have the recalled furniture in your home unanchored, especially if you have young children."

As part of the settlement, Ikea representatives have agreed to meet the advocacy group Parents Against Tip-overs, and to broaden its outreach over the recall, Mr Feldman said.

The Dudeks are donating US$1 million from the settlement to three consumer product safety groups, he said.

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