A history of deaths and serious injuries caused by bed rails used by nursing homes and home health care agencies have been spotlighted by a recent report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Our North Carolina personal injury attorneys understand that since 1995, when concerns were first raised, some 550 people have died as a result of getting their head or neck stuck either in the rails or in the space between the rail and the bed. Additionally, another 37,000 people have been treated at hospital emergency rooms for injuries between 2003 and 2011.
Although we don’t yet have data for 2012, the commission has indicated that this is the first step in possibly stiffer regulations for an industry that has been able to avoid intense scrutiny, despite the inherent dangers of their product.
While both the CPSC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were first made aware of problems by a Minnesota professor in 1995, it wasn’t until the death of an 81-year-old nursing home resident in Washington State, and the subsequent urgent letters written by her daughter, that a review was initiated.
In that case, as in so many others, the elderly woman was reportedly found strangled after getting her neck caught in the side rails. At the time, she had only been living at the nursing home for about five months.
The victim’s daughter lamented the fact that no action was taken sooner.
“Maybe my mother would still be alive,” she told a New York Times‘ reporter chronicling the issue.
For those who may not be familiar, we’re talking about the metal railings that are placed on the side of beds to keep older, ailing individuals from falling out onto the floor. The overall concept is good, but in practice, it appears design flaws have led to an ongoing number of tragedies.
Yet, federal regulators have been hesitant to take any definitive action. Part of the issue stems from the fact that regulators haven’t been able to classify the products – are they medical devices or consumer products? Such a distinction would determine which agency has the power to regulate – the FDA or the CPSC. It appears neither agency has been eager to take on responsibility.
While manufacturers did agree to voluntary guidelines in 2006, it doesn’t appear that those actions have done much to decrease the number of deaths or injuries. These guidelines include instructions for reducing the space in between the slats, as well as the space between the rail and the mattress. But of course, because these regulations are voluntary, manufacturers needn’t abide by them legally anyway.
Nursing homes and hospitals have been put on alert of potential safety issues, and as a result, some have reduced their use of the rails. But they haven’t been eliminated entirely.
But even the lack of government regulation on the issue doesn’t grant immunity to manufacturers or nursing homes who fail to address what is clearly a well-known and serious problem.
If you or a loved one is involved has suffered a North Carolina personal injury, contact Grimes Teich Anderson LLP. Call 1.800.533.6845. *No Attorney Fees Until You’ve Been Paid.
*Exclusive of case costs. Fees are a percentage of recovery and will be deducted before other expenses. In addition to the fee, Client will be responsible for litigation expenses, which will either be deducted from the recovery or paid by the client.
Consumer Agency Finds Most Adult Bedrail Deaths Are Among Those 60 and Older, Nov. 29, 2012, By Ron Nixon, The New York Times
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