Fisher-Price is accused of keeping its once popular Rock 'n Play inclined baby sleeper on the market for a decade despite the company's knowledge of safety concerns and infant deaths, a new congressional report finds.
During the 10 years that the sleeper was on the market, Fisher-Price raked in at least $200 million in revenue, according to a report by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform. More than 50 infants died using the product before it was recalled in April 2019.
“Today’s staff report is damning. The committee’s investigation shows how corporate greed and weak federal oversight led to the deaths of dozens of babies in an unsafe product," said Chairwoman committee Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney. “
"It is shameful that Fisher-Price endangered lives simply to help its bottom line. The findings of the Committee’s investigation make clear that we must strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Act to put American consumers over corporate profits. I am committed to doing just that.”
Fisher-Price began selling the Rock 'n Play in October 2009 and marketed it for overnight sleep. The product allowed infants to lie on their backs at a thirty-degree angle with their feet at a downward slope. The committee said that it was the only infant-inclined sleep product on the market at the time and Fisher-Price saw almost immediate success.
"The Rock ‘n Play became a wildly successful product for Fisher-Price, bringing in millions of dollars in sales every year," the report stated. "But documents obtained by the Committee show that Fisher-Price became aware of serious concerns about the Rock ‘n Play soon after its launch, including from regulatory bodies in Australia and Canada, pediatricians in the United States, and from consumers who were concerned the product was not safe for overnight sleep."
A Fisher-Price spokesperson disputed the report's claim, saying in an emailed statement Tuesday that the Rock 'n Play was designed and developed "following extensive research, medical advice, safety analysis, and more than a year of testing and review."
According to the 38-page report, Fisher-Price did not conduct "independent research, or even internal company research, showing that it was safe for babies to sleep at an angle."
"On the contrary, research showed that sleeping on an angle was unsafe," the report stated, noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended for years that it is safer for babies to sleep on a hard, flat surface. The AAP said this is, in part, to prevent SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome.
Instead of conducting research, Fisher-Price allegedly relied on knowledge about other inclined products, such as car seats. The company consulted with only one doctor, who did not specialize in pediatrics, before it began selling the sleeper, according to the committee.
The report said that the doctor was later accused by the Texas Medical Board of practicing without a license and "using unsafe practices."
A Fisher-Price safety commission employee told the House Committee that it was "not part of the standard product development process" for the company to consult a medical doctor about products. The employee noted that it was unique that a doctor was consulted for the Rock 'n Play.
According to the employee, Fisher-Price would typically conduct tests in its play lab and then have parents take the products home and report back the following day on any issues. The parents of 62 infants took the Rock 'n Play home in 2009 to test it out, according to the report.
It's unclear what the results of the in-home tests were, but the committee said in its report that no medical doctors were involved in evaluating the results.
"The company never completed any research establishing that it was safe for infants to sleep at an angle before bringing the product to market," the committee wrote.
Fisher-Price's own safety committee even warned that more research on inclined sleeping needed to be conducted and said, until then, the Rock n' Play was "unacceptable."
In October 2012, Fisher-Price received a consumer complaint that a child had stopped breathing while in the Rock 'n Play. The woman told the company that her child started breathing again after she picked him up and expressed concern about using the Rock 'n Play for her new baby. In response, Fisher-Price offered the woman a refund and then closed the case, according to the report.
Two months later, in December 2012, Fisher-Price received a report that a 15-month-old infant had died in the Rock 'n Play. According to the committee's report, SIDS was ruled as the child's cause of death. After two failed attempts to reach the child's parent, Fisher-Pricer allegedly closed the case.
The report noted that there is no evidence the company raised any concerns internally following these two reports and took no action to warn parents.
Fisher-Price insists the sleeper met all safety guidelines at the time.
"It met or exceeded all applicable regulatory standards," the Fisher-Price spokesperson said. "After the product launched, different independent medical and other expert analyses verified that it was safe when used in accordance with its instructions and warnings."
According to the spokesperson, two studies confirmed that the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper "was as safe or safer than other sleep environments such as cribs and bassinets."
"Though the facts show the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was safe when used in accordance with its instructions and warnings, we voluntarily recalled it more than two years ago and have continued to work diligently to remove all recalled products from the market. We reaffirm our commitment to parents that we will always put their children’s safety first," the company said.
The report comes days after Fisher-Price recalled its 4-in-1 Rock ‘n Glide Soothers and its 2-in-1 Soothe ‘n Play Gliders following the deaths of four infants.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in a press release that the infants were placed on their backs unrestrained in the 4-in-1 Rock ‘n Glide Soothers and later found on their stomachs.
Fisher-Price said in a statement at the time it was "committed to educating parents and caregivers on the safe use of all of our products, including the importance of following all warnings and instructions to ensure the health and safety of babies and children.”
There were no deaths associated with the 2-in-1 Soothe ‘n Play Gliders, but Fisher-Price recalled them because of their similarity to the other item, the company said.