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CPSC urging parents to take action after hope chest tragedy

It may surprise most people to learn that one of the largest recalls of children's products ever undertaken by the Consumer Product Safety Commission did not involve toys, cribs, highchairs, pacifiers or even clothing. Rather it involved a piece of furniture that had the ability to trap and suffocate unsuspecting children looking for a good hiding place.

In 1996, the CPSC together with the Lane Furniture Company announced a recall of 12 million cedar hope chests manufactured by the company from 1912 to 1987. Here, the problem was that the hope chests were equipped with latching systems that would automatically lock when the lids were closed and which could not be opened from the inside, creating a suffocation hazard. Shockingly, six children had already died at the time of the 1996 recall.

Flash forward to 2000, where the massive recall was renewed yet again after reports surfaced that another child had suffocated inside one of the hope chests, while two others had narrowly escaped death.

While news reports on these hope chests have been virtually non-existent for well over a decade, that all changed a few weeks ago when two Massachusetts siblings, ages 7 and 8, died after accidently trapping themselves inside one of the recalled chests.

Here, the hope chest in question was manufactured back in 1939 and had been purchased by the family secondhand over a decade ago.

According to both the CPSC and safety groups, this recent tragedy serves to underscore that these dangerous hope chests are still out there and that news of the recall -- which calls upon consumers to get a free lock repair kit from the furniture company or simply remove the entire latching system -- is either being ignored or still not reaching consumers.

"With all that's going on in the world, it's unlikely you're going to hear about it," said an official with Kids in Danger. "Or they hear about it and forgot to follow up and take action, they don't understand the risk of it or it's not economically feasible to parents to comply with recalls for which there isn't a fix."

Compounding the problem is the fact that consumers are unlikely to part with these hope chests, many of which are either inherited or purchased secondhand, because they are well made and make a nice home decoration. This is different from potentially defective children's products like toys, cribs, clothes, etc., which parents generally dispose of at some point regardless of whether they know of any relevant recall.

In the meantime, CPSC officials are urging parents to check for these hope chests in their homes and make sure they take remedial measures if they are indeed present.

"We do not want another child to die in a Lane cedar chest," said a CPSC spokesperson. "We need parents, we need grandparents to know there was a recall years ago, and to check their basement, check their attic, check their house, and if they have them, it's not too late to take advantage of the recall."

It's important to remember that you can seek justice if a dangerous or defective children's product has caused your family immeasurable harm. Consider speaking with an experienced attorney to learn more about your rights and your options.

Source: NBC News, "Child deaths are tragic reminder that products pose risk long after recall," Lisa Flam, Jan. 16, 2014; NBC News, "Two Mass. children die after getting stuck in hope chest," Bob Salsberg, Jan. 13, 2014

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