Legal update: Young children and window blind safety
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on April 27th, 2011
In the United States since 1999, one child a month dies from accidental strangulation after becoming entangled in the cords of household window blinds, according to statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
For parents who have had to somehow survive after such a tragedy, that number is entirely too large.
In a story last week in The New York Times the issue of accidental deaths involving children from seven months old up to 10 years old again moved to the forefront as the CPSC began an effort to push blinds makers to remove the risky cords from their products. It is not the first time that window blinds have been targeted for safety reasons in this country.
The newspaper’s story told the tragic details of several families who lost young children to accidental window cord strangulation deaths in their homes.
One mother, Kathleen Leeson of Montgomery Village, Md., told the paper about the day in August, 2009, when she returned to her foster son’s bedroom after putting him down for a nap, only to find him entangled in a window blind cord around his neck. “I was screaming his name and shaking him, and the realization hit me, ‘Oh my God. This can’t be happening,'” she told The Times.
“For the last 25 years or so, manufacturers of window blinds have installed safety features and offered tips to parents to try to minimize the dangers from their products,” the story reported. “Even so, children … continue to strangle on the cords with grim regularity, an average of one a month.”
The CPSC is again pushing the companies that sell window blinds to fix the designs of their products so that cords can no longer cause accidental deaths, according to the story. A task force made up of consumer product safety experts, parents, window blind makers and others hopes to accomplish this task by later this year.
Linda Kaiser, a Herculaneum, Mo., mother who lost a one-year-old daughter to strangulation in a window blind accident in their home nine years ago, said it all happened so quickly on the day of the accident.
Her daughter, Cheyenne, was asleep in her crib in her bedroom, Kaiser said in an interview. The crib was on a wall near a window, but the window shade pull cords were tied up like the instructions told her to secure them. Somehow, though, the baby must have awakened and was able to get hold of one of the inner cords on the blind that controlled the slats. Cheyenne pulled the inner cord into a loop and became entangled, strangling herself before her mother found her.
“We did all the right things to pull up the pull cords,” Kaiser said. “But the tied up cords are not all that is needed to make the blinds safe. The companies don’t tell you this.”
The year after the baby’s death, Kaiser founded the group, Parents for Window Blind Safety, to help warn other families of the dangers of window blinds and to work to force companies to make and sell safer blinds.
One thing parents also need to remember, she said, is that window blind safety also has to be stressed in all other places where young children live, visit or play, including in day care centers and the homes of relatives.
“A safe shade is a shade without a cord,” Kaiser said. “We are for cordless or cord-free shades. These products are available.”
Kaiser said that one problem faced by consumers is that though safe, non-corded blinds do exist, they are often each as much as $20 more than corded blinds. “We’re trying to work with the retailers to get affordable products so parents don’t have to pay extra for safety.”
She is member of a safety standards steering committee put together by the Window Covering Safety Council, which is an industry group made up of companies that make, import and sell window blinds in the U.S.
Window blind makers argue that household hazards can be minimized but never truly eliminated, according to The Times story. In addition, the story reported, families with young children are advised to only install and use cordless shades in their homes.
Kaiser said she won’t stop until corded blinds are no longer sold in this country. “I would like for the public to be fully informed,” she said. “I would like them to know that older kids are dying on products that the industry says is safe. The parents are believing what the packages say and that’s not fair. If a product has a cord in it they don’t need to have it in their house if they have small children.”
It is impossible to comprehend the pain felt by any family that loses a child due to an accident involving a window blind cord.
We here at MyPhillyLawyer hope that the CPSC does finalize and implement standards for safer cordless window blinds by the end of this year, as planned.
The loss of one child a month to such a tragedy is simply too great a loss for anyone to bear.