Fisher-Price thought it had a hit on its hands.


It was 2009, and a small team of engineers at the toy company outside Buffalo seemed to have solved one of the most vexing problems for new parents: getting babies to sleep. Their invention was an inclined sleeper. They named it the Rock ‘n Play. It held babies on their backs in a padded frame at a 30-degree angle, like a recliner. There was nothing else like it. Cribs and bassinets laid flat. The difference was spelled out right on the box: “Baby can sleep at a comfortable incline all night long!”

“There was no product on the market that safely did that,” was how the Fisher-Price employee who dreamed it up put it, according to a later court deposition.

Over the next decade, Fisher-Price would sell 4.7 million Rock ‘n Play Sleepers at $50 to $80 each.

But Fisher-Price developed its revolutionary product based on faulty beliefs about infant sleep, with no clinical research into whether it was safe, and, rather than seeking the advice of pediatricians, consulted just a single doctor — a family physician from Texas whose expertise had already been doubted by judges and who would eventually lose his medical license, according to a review by The Washington Post of thousands of pages of court depositions, emails and medical studies, along with interviews of doctors and regulators.

In fact, the first time Fisher-Price hired a pediatrician to evaluate the Rock ‘n Play was eight years later, as part of the company’s defense in a product liability lawsuit, according to records.

“That’s shocking. It would never cross anyone’s mind that it wasn’t tested for safety,” said Nancy Cowles of the consumer advocacy group Kids in Danger. Cowles also sits on a committee that sets voluntary safety standards for infant sleep products, including the Rock ‘n Play.

Last month, the Rock ‘n Play was recalled by Fisher-Price after a series of infant deaths. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which helped coordinate the recall, said more than 30 babies died in the product after they turned over while unrestrained or “under other circumstances.” But regulators did not definitively blame the product for the deaths. The recall followed a report by Consumer Reports magazine days earlier that was the first to document concerns about the product’s development and pushed for the recall after it obtained agency records about the deaths. Two weeks later, another 700,000 inclined sleepers made by another firm, Kids II, were recalled in relation to five more deaths.

Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper recalled after infant deaths

Source: Washington Post