Commission probes 3rd child Ikea dresser death

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Theodore "Ted" McGee died Feb. 14 when a bureau in his Apple Valley, Minn., bedroom tipped onto him, according to the family's lawyers.

Federal safety regulators are investigating the death of a Minnesota toddler crushed by an Ikea dresser in February, seven months after the retailer disclosed millions of its dressers are at risk of falling forward if not properly stabilized.

Theodore "Ted" McGee died Feb. 14 when a bureau in his Apple Valley, Minn., bedroom tipped onto him, according to the family's lawyers. His parents thought the 22-month-old was napping.

"They didn't hear the dresser fall," attorney Alan Feldman said. "They didn't hear Ted scream."

Ikea and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are reviewing McGee's death, according to representatives at both.

Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the commission, called it a "tragic tip-over fatality" but declined to discuss the investigation, citing a federal law that bars the agency from disclosing details of such reviews without the company's consent.

Last July, the commission and Ikea publicly acknowledged the company's dressers can become dangerously unstable if not attached to a wall. In a release, they said two children, including a West Chester 2-year-old, had died since 2014 when Ikea Malm dressers toppled onto them. Ikea also announced plans to send anchoring kits to any customers who requested them.

The so-called repair program - a type of recall - affected 27 million dressers, including seven million Malm units, a popular line that ranges in price from $46 to $179. In August, the Canadian government issued a similar recall affecting about six million more Ikea dressers.

The Swedish retailer, whose U.S. headquarters are in Conshohocken, says it has since sent more than 300,000 anchoring kits to consumers. It also launched a campaign to alert the public of the danger and remind consumers to attach their furniture to the wall.

In a statement to the Inquirer, safety commission chairman Elliot Kaye said the agency expected companies to remain vigilant, even after a recall.

"Without commenting on any specific case, companies are now on notice that even if there has been a public announcement about a remedy to address a dangerous product, the company must take every possible step to prevent further harm," he said. "This is especially the case when a child dies. Companies need to move fast and work with us on a comprehensive plan that offers their customers every necessary measure required for the sake of safety. I expect companies to truly put safety first."

Tip-overs, most involving unsecured dressers and televisions, lead to dozens of deaths and more than 38,000 emergency-room visits in the United States each year, experts say.

Ted McGee's parents didn't know the risk and never heard about the Ikea campaign, their lawyers said.

That had been a concern of safety advocates, who questioned why federal regulators and Ikea promoted the action as a "repair program" instead of labeling it a recall. Some argued doing so lessened the impact, since the word recall carries more weight with consumers. Advocates also stressed that including anchoring hardware with dressers - as Ikea long has - isn't enough, since many consumers don't realize the threat or attach the restraints.

Jeremy and Janet McGee bought their dresser in 2012, before their son was born. Both had children from previous marriages, but Ted was their first child together.

After putting him down for a nap that day, Janet McGee checked on her son about every 20 minutes, according to an Apple Valley police report reviewed by the Inquirer. On one visit, it said, she opened the door and saw her son's empty bed but expected to find Ted hiding in the room, as he often did when he was supposed to be napping.

Instead, she saw the tall, six-drawer dresser on the floor, toppled onto her son, the report said. First responders could not resuscitate the boy. Mann and Feldman said they were preparing a lawsuit against Ikea in connection with Ted McGee's death. They have already filed lawsuits on behalf of the families of the two other children who the safety commission said died in Malm tip-overs.

Curren Collas, the West Chester toddler, died in February 2014. His mother found him pinned between his toppled six-drawer Ikea dresser and his bed frame.

Camden Ellis, a 2-year-old from Snohomish, Wash., died four months later beneath a smaller, three-drawer Malm dresser. His parents said it happened on one of the first nights he slept in a toddler bed instead of a crib.

Believing other families have been affected by Ikea furniture tip-overs, the attorneys have launched a website - www.furniture-tip-over-accidents.com - hoping to hear from consumers. They also want Ikea to issue a recall that includes buying back its dressers and replacing them with ones that are more stable. Feldman called the repair program inadequate.

"How many kids should we sacrifice simply because this is a product that has some utility and that people will buy because it's inexpensive furniture?" he said.

Ikea spokeswoman Mona Astra Liss, in a statement, offered condolences to the McGee family. She said that product safety was Ikea's highest priority and that the company immediately notified the safety commission after learning of Ted McGee's death.

"Ikea has been advised that the product was not attached to the wall, which is an integral part of the product's assembly instructions," she said. "We wish to emphasize that the best way to prevent tip-over of chests of drawers is to attach products to the wall with the included restraints and hardware per the assembly instructions."

Liss said the company plans to expand its campaign "to ensure that this important message reaches even more people," but she did not elaborate.

Wolfson, the safety commission spokesman, reiterated its concerns about unanchored Ikea furniture.

"It just takes a few minutes to save a life," he said, urging consumers to get and attach the restraints. "Because we would be deeply concerned if a family had that dresser readily accessible to children before it is actually repaired."

tnadolny@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @TriciaNadolny