Ikea to halt sale of deadly dressers, offer refunds to millions

1200 Ikea dresser tip-over test
Bobby Puett, president of Diversified Testing Labs, watches as the Ikea Malm six-drawer dresser falls over during a tip-over test at Diversified Testing Labs in Burlington, N.C., on Sept. 17, 2015.

After the deaths of three toddlers, Ikea has agreed to immediately stop selling dressers that too easily tip over, and to offer full refunds to millions of customers who bought them.

The recall applies to 29 million dressers, some sold more than a decade ago, including the company's popular, low-cost Malm line. By Monday, Ikea's website no longer carried the Malm models blamed in the deaths, which fail industry stability tests.

Details of the agreement, which a federal agency source briefed on the matter called "unprecedented," are scheduled to be made public Tuesday.

Hours after the Inquirer first reported the news Monday afternoon, Ikea USA president Lars Petersson confirmed the recall in an interview with NBC News, saying consumers who own the affected dressers should "please take them out" of any rooms accessible to children.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission declined to comment on the recall.

The action follows increased scrutiny of Ikea, including a series of Inquirer stories and criticism by safety advocates of the company's response after the deadly accidents. It also marks a stark turn for the Swedish retailing giant, which tried last year to address the issue by reminding consumers to attach their dressers to the wall and offering free anchoring kits.

But the company did not agree to redesign the products to meet industry safety standards, and it did not offer refunds or replacements. Safety advocates at the time called the response inadequate.

Then, in February, a 22-month-old in Minnesota was found beneath a toppled Malm dresser. Ted McGee became the third boy to die in a Malm tip-over in less than two years.

The first was 2-year-old Curren Collas of West Chester, whose 2014 death was chronicled in an Inquirer story about the trend of dangerous tip-overs. Dozens of people die each year and tens of thousands are injured by unstable dressers and televisions that are not properly anchored, hospital data show.

Through their lawyers, McGee's parents said that they never heard about Ikea's public safety campaign last year, rekindling safety advocates' claims that it had been ineffective.

The advocates renewed the demand for a wider recall. Elliot F. Kaye, the CPSC chairman, promised more action was coming. Earlier this year, he said his agency would take Ikea to court if the company did not agree to a more robust recall.

Meanwhile, members of Congress, including Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pa.), joined the chorus.

On Monday, Casey said he was heartened by the new action, but would keep pressing for the passage of legislation he introduced this month that would force dresser manufacturers to meet a mandatory stability standard, not the current voluntary one.

"While this is a positive development, this battle is by no means over," Casey said in a statement. "The facts are clear: Far too many children are exposed to unsafe furniture that can easily tip over."

Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and senior counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, called the planned recall "incredibly significant."

"This will save lives," she said. "And unfortunately, three children that we know of have died as a result of these dressers tipping on them. But I think these actions will prevent other families from enduring a tragedy like those families have endured and continue to endure."

Alan Feldman, a Center City attorney representing the families of the three children, said he was aware of the recall but declined to comment, saying he had agreed to not do so until the recall was announced.

The federal source, who works for the commission but was not authorized to publicly discuss the plan, said the new recall applies to all 27 million units included in Ikea's first "repair program" - nine million of them from the Malm line - as well as new products.

Full refunds will be offered in most cases, but for very old products the company could instead provide a store credit, according to the source. For consumers who want to keep the products, Ikea will send repair crews directly to consumers' homes to tether the dressers to the wall.

Where and how consumers can get refunds is expected to be released Tuesday.

"It's truly remarkable," said the commission source. "A scope that we haven't seen from the agency. It's total capitulation by Ikea."

tnadolny@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @TriciaNadolny