New York personal injury attorneys have learned that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has launched a federal investigation into the deaths of dozens of elderly people killed due to problems relating to bed rails.

These devices are intended to help prevent people from falling out of the bed. However, what’s often happening is people are getting their heads caught either in between the rails or in the space between the rail and the bed.

As we understand it, federal authorities have known how dangerous these products are for more than a decade, but hadn’t taken a hard line stance against them or even warned consumers about them – despite the fact that elderly people continue to die when using them. Between 2003 and the spring of 2012, approximately 150 adults (mostly elderly) died after becoming trapped in the rails. During that same time period, roughly 36,000 older adults (that’s about 4,000 annually) had to be taken to the emergency room for treatment as a result of an injury caused by bed rails. In all of 2011, it’s believed at least 27 people died as a result of bed rail injuries.

It’s worth noting that these numbers are likely much higher, as not all injuries and deaths caused by the rails are officially reported as such.

Those who have studied these injuries and deaths indicate that the incidents are 100 percent avoidable.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first issued warnings about the rails back in 1995. That year alone, some 550 people died due to injuries incurred from bed rails. However, the government didn’t go so far as requiring manufacturers to print safety labels on the sides because the industry was aggressively resistant. Instead, the industry agreed to adopt some voluntarily guidelines. None of the rails were recalled, though safety alerts were sent to both nursing homes and home health care agencies – many of whom continue to use the rails.

The FDA had in 2000 explored whether warning labels on the devices should be mandated, but again opted to do nothing, citing potential legal issues and the added cost to small manufacturers.

Some have estimated that a push to replace the older models of bed rails with newer, safer models would result in a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to elder care facilities. Still, the cost seems well worth it considering the enormous number of injuries and loss of life we are seeing due to these devices.

New FDA voluntary guidelines were issued in 2006, which recommended smaller gap size limits, with a warning regarding the body parts that are most likely to get caught in them. This may have made the rails somewhat safer, but people are continuing to incur injuries.

So now, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, at the request of a woman who lost her 81-year-old mother in a bed rail incident, is launching a formal study to determine whether more regulations are necessary.

If you or your loved one is a victim of personal injury in New York City, contact Queller, Fisher, Washor, Fuchs & Kool at 212-406-1700.

Posted in: Wrongful Death