June 6, 2013

Dangerous Bed Rails - Is A Complete Ban Necessary?

by Levin & Perconti

While seemingly a safety product, advocates have long-known of the hidden danger lurking with use of bed rails. These products purport to prevent a vulnerable medical patient or nursing home resident from falling off a bed. But bed rails do much more than that--they also frequently entrap residents, smothering them, and, sometimes, causing serious injury or death.

National attention was focused on the bed rail problem last year in a high-profile New York Times article on the situation. The story noted how dozens of deaths have been reported in recent years from bed rails, and that does not count the many more that may not have been reported to officials.

The article shared the advocacy of one woman who has been fighting for changes to prevent these bed rail accidents following the tragic passing of her mother. Her 81-year old mother died in a nursing home after her neck was caught in a bed rail.

Mounting Pressure for Bed Rail Ban
The Consumer Product Safety Commission and Food and Drug Administration are the federal agencies charged with monitoring these types of affairs. Both entities have long-known about bed rail dangers, but little to no action had actually been taken to enact changes that would minimize the risks or eliminate them altogether.

That may slowly be changing, as more and more advocates coalesce around the idea that these products cause far more harm than good and simply should not be used.

For example, a McKnight’s Long-Term Care & Assisted Living News story reported on recent action by the Consumer Product Safety Commision which may eventually result in a total ban on bed rails. Earlier this week the Commission “merged” two petitions which each ask the agency to ban the product. It will now weigh the matter, as it accepts public comments on the issue for the next two months (ending in late July).

The merging of the petitions in helpful in emphasizing the size of the advocacy groups fighting this effort. One petition was started by Public Citizen, a consumer rights safety group. The second was led by the activist profiled in the NYT story. Her petition was backed by a wide range of groups, ranging from unions like the Service Employees international Union (SEIU) to the National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs.

The petitions both call for a complete ban on bed rails. In making the case, they note the tremendous risks of entrapment and suffocation. In just the last decades there are 155 documented bed-rail associated deaths--a number that may drastically underestimate total deaths related to these products.

Importantly, those calling for the ban explain how intermediary steps--more label warnings, design changes, etc.--are insufficient. As one advocate pithily wrote, “Warnings are not an appropriate way to ‘fix' dangerous designs, unless perhaps the warning says ‘Do Not Use This Product,’”

If you or a loved one may have been harmed by a bed rail, please get in touch with our team of injury lawyers today to see how we can help. We are proud to work with families in Chicago and throughout Illinois who have been hurt in these tragic situations.

See Other Blog Posts:

Nursing Home Bed Rail Safety Petition to CPSC

U.S. Senators Send Letter Urging Action on Dangerou Bed Rails