The family of a child who died this year in a Winnie the Pooh bassinet has sued the Walt Disney Co., alleging the company allowed sales of the bassinets despite a flawed design that had been linked to another baby's death a year earlier.
The bassinet had a drop-down side for easy access, but the design created a gap where babies could slide through and hang to death. Kennedy Brotherton Jones was 6 months old when she was strangled on Aug. 21.
Shortly after Kennedy's death, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission directed retailers to stop selling the bassinets, which were manufactured by Simplicity Inc. Disney's consumer products division licensed its Winnie the Pooh name and image to Simplicity, records show.
The suit, filed in California state court in Los Angeles on Wednesday, raises questions about a common practice in the nursery products industry: Are companies that license their names and characters to other manufacturers responsible when those products turn out to be deadly?
California courts have found that a licensor can be held liable for a defective product, said Charles Kelly, the San Francisco attorney representing Kennedy's parents.
A spokesman for Disney's consumer products division did not return calls seeking comment.
Disney Counsel Manuel Grace told Kelly in a September letter that his company was not responsible. "The functional and structural design as well as the manufacture and sale of Simplicity bassinets were solely the responsibility of Simplicity Inc., as was the need that its product be in compliance with legal and industry safety standards," Grace wrote.
Simplicity collapsed earlier this year in the wake of major crib recalls and babies' deaths. SFCA Inc., an affiliate of private-equity fund Blackstreet Capital Partners and a Simplicity creditor, purchased the Pennsylvania firm's assets at a foreclosure sale in May.
When the safety commission sought to recall the bassinets in August, the agency noted that SFCA had "refused to cooperate with the government and recall the products." At the time, SFCA said in a written statement that it was not liable for products manufactured by Simplicity.
A safety commission spokesman confirmed on Thursday that SFCA subsequently went out of business. Many retailers, however, are still offering refunds to consumers who return these bassinets.
About 11 months before Kennedy's death, a 4-month-old Missouri baby, Katelyn Marie Simon, died after getting trapped in a Simplicity-branded bassinet that shared the same design as the Winnie the Pooh bassinets. Kennedy's family alleged in its suit that Disney knew or should have known about Katelyn's death and should have halted sales of the bassinets before Kennedy's aunt bought hers.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times