By Caroline E. Mayer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2006
The Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday unanimously approved a new flammability safety standard to reduce deaths and injuries caused by mattress fires.
The new standard to limit the spread of fire from candles, lighters and other open flames may also end up restricting a consumer's right to win damages in lawsuits involving mattress fires. The rule's preamble says that the standard should preempt state rules and court decisions.
The three-member commission quickly approved the standard in a 12-minute meeting; almost all the time was spent discussing the restriction on consumer lawsuits.
Democrat Commissioner Thomas H. Moore called it a troubling precedent. "If we have gotten this standard right, then lawsuits against manufacturers should be a rarity and prevailing ones even less common," he said in a statement. "But if we have gotten it wrong, the fastest way we will find out is through people bringing lawsuits that challenge our conclusions."
Republican Chairman Hal Stratton said "it doesn't make a lot of sense for our staff to work for 10 years and then have a jury which has no expertise come up with a separate rule for each state."
Any mattress sold after July 1, 2007, will have to meet the new standard designed to give residents enough time to flee from a mattress fire started by an open flame. Mattresses already have to resist ignition from smoldering cigarettes.
The agency estimates its rule will save 270 lives, or about 78 percent of the annual deaths attributable to mattress and bedding fires, and eliminate 1,330 injuries, or 84 percent of yearly injuries. Consumers may have to pay about $25 more for a queen-size mattress set, but, the agency said, one major manufacturer is already making complying mattresses with no cost increase.