Grieving mom asks why no one warned about Fisher-Price infant sleeper deaths

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury via KGO logo
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
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There was no warning over the years that dozens of babies had died in the Rock 'n Play. One mom says if she'd known, she'd still have her daughter.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For 10 years, Fisher-Price sold a hugely popular baby bassinet called Rock 'n Play. It was supposed to help babies sleep by laying them on an incline.

But as millions snapped up the Rock 'n Play, they were unaware more than 30 babies had died in the sleeper before it was recalled in 2019.

Now three years later, Fisher-Price revealed even more babies have died in the sleeper, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission knew of the danger -- but a law prevented it from warning the public.

Many parents believe that if a baby product is on the shelf, it's been tested and deemed safe. But it's mainly up to companies to decide what's safe. There was no warning over the years that dozens of babies died in the Rock 'n Play. One mom says if only she'd known, she might still have her daughter.

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Erika Richter calls it the happiest time in her life. "God, she smiled... even at two weeks she had this smile."

"I had all her outfits planned, 'Oh she spit up on this one, gotta change into this one...'" Richter said, tearing up. "We were so in love with her."

But, in a matter of moments, it became the darkest time.

"What else do you do? Except pray and hope that it's not true," she said.

It happened in August 2018, two weeks after Richter gave birth to Emma, her first child.

As Richter was napping, her partner John fed the baby and put her in her bassinet. It was this Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play sleeper, a hugely popular, hammock-style baby bed.

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"I would give anything in this entire world... to go back," Richter said.

Fisher-Price had sold millions of the Rock 'n Play sleepers, known for their unique but controversial design, in which babies sleep on an incline of 30 degrees.

"I'm never going to be able to forget that day," Richter said.

They'd received the Rock 'n Play as a gift -- a trusted product by a legacy company: Fisher-Price, owned by Mattel.

"People just equate this brand with trust," Richter said.

They had no idea the Consumer Product Safety Commission was quietly investigating a series of infant deaths in the sleeper -- and was forbidden by law to warn the public without consent from Fisher-Price.

The company was entitled to conduct its own research on product safety and decide whether a voluntary recall was warranted.

And so Richter's peaceful nap was shattered that day.

"'Erika, wake up, there's something wrong with Emma'... and she was blue," Richter recalled.

Frantically they called 911, laid Emma on a counter, with John pumping her tiny chest.

"I was on the floor praying. I felt so helpless watching him do CPR that I just didn't know what else to do. But what else do you do except just pray, hope that it's not true, that some divine intervention can make it not true," Richter said.

But Emma was gone.

"I'm never gonna forget what it was like to hold my daughter lifeless in my hand," Richter said. "You're just like how? How did this happen?"

It wasn't until eight months later -- she saw it on the news.

"All models of the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play sleeper have been recalled... More than 30 infants have died in the sleeper," the newscaster said.

"I heard Fisher-Price. I saw the picture on TV, my heart sank... because I knew," she said, tears choking her words.

It was the Rock 'n Play sleeper. Like the one Emma was in when she died.

Rock 'n Play had been linked to more than 30 infant deaths since 2009. For all those years, no one had warned her?

"Anger. A lot of anger that they knew," Richter said.

Fisher-Price recalled the Rock 'n Play in 2019 but only after CPSC inadvertently released data about the fatalities to Consumer Reports.

In the recall notice, CPSC warned "infant fatalities have occurred... after infants rolled from their back to the stomach or side while unrestrained, or under other circumstances."

Now Richter and John are suing Mattel and Fisher-Price for wrongful death, claiming the companies knew the Rock 'n Play was dangerous but kept selling it anyway.

Pediatricians say inclined sleepers are unsafe for babies due to risk of suffocation.

"When a baby is on an incline it's actually harder for them to keep their head and neck straight, and then their airway gets kinked and that causes more problems," said Dr. Rachel Moon of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Fisher-Price and Mattel did not comment on Emma's death or the lawsuit, but maintained the Rock 'n Play was safe when used as instructed, telling 7 On Your Side: "There is nothing more important to Fisher-Price than the safety of our products and the trust consumers place in us. Our hearts go out to every family who has suffered a loss."

But after the recall, the Rock 'n Play was blamed for even more infant deaths. Last summer Fisher-Price acknowledged the death toll had tripled.

"Absolutely shocking. This is a national scandal," said U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D - New York).

And not only were babies dying -- the company knew babies were dying, the federal government knew it and yet parents were not warned. Now the CPSC is trying to warn about another Fisher-Price rocker linked to deaths of more babies -- and it's still on the market. Why? 7 On Your Side will follow up with another report.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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