Anyone who has ever built a bookshelf, dresser or other tall and relatively skinny piece of furniture has seen the safety screw. It’s the one left over when, hopefully, all the others are helping to hold the thing together.
But, even when people properly use these safety devices, people – especially young children – can be injured. Many are, every year … some, tragically, are killed in furniture tipping related accidents.
Recently, Ikea, one of the most popular furniture retailers in the United States, agreed to pay $50 million to the families of three young children killed when Ikea dressers tipped over on them. According to the families’ attorneys, the proceeds from the judgment will be split equally between the three families.
On top of that judgment, passed down by a judge after a two-day hearing, Ikea has agreed to donate $50,000 to three different children’s hospitals as well as $100,000 to a child safety charity called Shane’s Foundation.
The company did try to avoid this. Back in 2015, Ikea launched a program that ostensibly encouraged customers to anchor dressers to the wall. Remember that “leftover” screw? But children continued to be injured. After the third connected death, Ikea recalled millions of dressers, offering a refund program for customers that returned the items in question.
But that was not enough to escape the legal judgment. Would it be enough to escape any potential viral blowback from consumers?
This scenario highlights the ongoing debate between who’s really responsible when a consumer is hurt or killed by a manufactured product. On some level, in most cases, consumer negligence could be pointed out. However, how much responsibility does the manufacturer have for the product and their customers’ safety?
The answer to that question forms a line that tends to move one direction or the next based on the product and the market to which that product is sold.
In this case, the fact that three two-year-olds were killed will push a lot of public sympathy toward the parents and away from Ikea. While some people are sure to blame the parents for the accidents, others will say the company should have done more to reduce the tipping risk.
Ikea’s response – owning up and making changes – will likely help them from a public relations standpoint, but there will still be those who believe this kind of thing should be prevented before it has a chance to happen.