Elderly Injuries, Deaths, From Bed Rails Prompt Federal Inquiry

January 31, 2013

We have often heard of older folks, knowing their time is limited, make a wish to pass away in their sleep. someshapswithands.jpg

What they shouldn't have to worry about is whether their bed will kill them.

Our New York personal injury lawyers understand a federal investigation has been launched into the thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths resulting from bed rails used to keep older or disabled adults from falling.

Perhaps even more troubling is that two separate federal regulators - the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - were aware of serious problems involving these products for more than a decade, but have done little in the way of action aimed at protecting the consumer.

We now know that since 1995, approximately 36,000 older adults have been injured as a direct result of these bed rails. That equates to about 4,000 injuries a year. Also since that time, there have been approximately 550 deaths, with about 150 occurring from 2003 through the spring of 2012.

Those are low-ball estimates, as they only include those instances in which emergency room doctors or medical examiners specifically noted it as the cause of injury or death. The actual numbers are likely much higher.

A bioethics professor in Minnesota was the first to alert these agencies to problems back in 1995, with a comprehensive report detailing the issue. But both agencies were reticent to take action for three reasons:

  1. There was an anti-regulatory atmosphere in Congress at the time;

  2. There was a major push back from manufacturers and nursing homes, insisting the cost to implement mandatory changes would be astronomical;

  3. The agencies couldn't decide whether bed rails should be considered a medical device or a consumer product, a distinction that would govern which agency should handle regulation.

There were some voluntary guidelines that the industry enacted in 2006, but it's not clear yet whether that had any major effect in reducing negligent injuries or wrongful deaths in New York or elsewhere.

Of course, all of this is of little consolation to the thousands of families who continued to be affected by these devices. The primary problem is that people, mostly elderly and suffering from diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's, were having their heads and necks caught either in between the bars or in the spaces between the bars and the bed.

That was exactly what happened to the 81-year-old mother of an Oregon woman. She died just five months after being sent to live in a nursing home in Washington State. She had been strangled by her bed rails.

As a result of her daughter's persistent letter-writing campaign, the CPSC did agree to conduct an initial study of the problem, which it completed in November. Officials however characterized this as only the first step to any mandated regulation, and thus far, no further action has been taken.

Still, even lack of a recall doesn't free manufacturers of these products or the facilities that continue to use them from liability when an injury or death occurs.

The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.

Additional Resources:
After Dozens of Deaths, Inquiry Into Bed Rails, Nov. 25, 2012, By Ron Nixon, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:
CPSC Launches New Website to Reduce Risks of Harmful Product Injury in New York and Elsewhere, May 27, 2011, New York City Product Liability Lawyer Blog