The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After deaths of three toddlers, Ikea recalls millions of dressers

The U.S. Consumer and Product Safety Commission produced this video, which illustrates why parents should "anchor" large pieces of furniture, televisions and appliances to prevent curious children from suffering serious injuries or death. (Video: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission via YouTube)

The three children, Theodore McGee, Camden Ellis and Curren Collas, were all close in age — between 22 months and 2 years old. They were all boys who died within a span of two years. The cause, in each case, was the same: a tragic accident involving tipped-over Ikea furniture.

Each death happened at home; each death came as its own unimaginable shock. Curren’s mother, Jackie Collas, took to Facebook and her blog, Heaven Has a Hero, to go public with the story of how a dangerous dresser claimed her son’s life. Collas entered Curren’s room on a February morning in 2014 to dress the toddler for breakfast. The instant she opened his door, she knew something was wrong.

“The dresser was completely flipped over. Then I saw that his body was trapped underneath the dresser,” Collas wrote. “At that point I started screaming.”

Ikea, a tipped-over dresser and a toddler’s tragic death

In the wake of the tragedies, Ikea, the largest furniture retailer in the world, made the first in a series of attempts to correct the problem. Last July, the North American branch of the company partnered with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to launch a campaign offering free wall anchors to secure the dressers, using screws to hold the wardrobes upright. The program cited the popular Malm style, in particular, although that represented about a quarter of the roughly 29 million Ikea dressers targeted by the repair program. As of April, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Ikea customers had requested some 300,000 anchoring kits.

The accidents, however, did not stop.

On February 14, almost two years after Curren’s death and just seven months into the new repair campaign, the mother of Theodore McGee found her son beneath a six-drawer dresser. Alan Feldman, the attorney who represents the McGees and the other families in lawsuits against Ikea, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Theodore’s parents were not aware that Ikea had launched the campaign. The dresser had been purchased years before, in 2012.

The dressers “don’t look dangerous,” Feldman said to the Star Tribune, “but when you load them up with clothing and you allow them to be in a bedroom with a small child … it’s Russian roulette.” The burden of safety, as the lawyer argued to the Philadelphia Inquirer in January, should be on the manufacturer, not the consumer.

In addition to the three deaths between 2014 and 2016, Ikea also said it knew of 14 other cases of Malm dressers tipping over, four of which resulted in injury. Different brands of Ikea chests, reported the Associated Press, had been implicated in three other deaths going back to 1989.

Ikea recalls safety gates for fear of causing injury to kids

By early May, as the Inquirer reported, demands for Ikea to recall the Malm dresser reached a fever pitch. “It needs to be recalled,” a former director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Pamela Gilbert, told the newspaper. “And I think Ikea needs to spend a lot of money making sure everybody knows about it.”

Ikea’s wall anchor campaign last July technically fit the definition of a recall. But after details of McGee’s death surfaced, the Consumer Product Safety Commission declared, after a May meeting, that the anchors were insufficient.

On Monday, Ikea reportedly announced it was issuing a traditional recall — full refunds to the owners of the 29 million dressers. To the Philadelphia Inquirer, which reported the news late Monday, a federal official called the recall “unprecedented” and “total capitulation by Ikea.” The complete details of the recall are expected to be announced Tuesday.

“We are announcing this recall today given the recent tragic death of a third child,” said a statement from Ikea, obtained by ABC News. “It is clear that there are still unsecured products in customers’ homes, and we believe that taking further action is the right thing to do.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission told the network that Ikea is offering a refund or repair kit for affected dressers, including the Malm and other styles, and would send a crew to install wall anchors upon request.

If Malm dressers are not anchored to walls, “please take them out of a room that children can access because it could be a danger,” Ikea’s U.S. president Lars Petersson said Monday, according to WNBC in New York. As of Monday, Ikea no longer sells three- or six-drawer Malm dressers online.

Tipped over furniture injures a child every 24 minutes, on average, and causes a fatal accident every two weeks, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

No spokesperson for Ikea could be reached for comment early Tuesday and no announcement had been posted on the company’s Twitter account or its website.