Adult Bed Rails Lead to North Carolina Wrongful Deaths, Injuries

Bed rails, the metal frames or bars affixed to your elderly loved one’s bedsides to prevent her from toppling onto the floor, might actually kill her or seriously injury those they are meant to protect.someshapswithands.jpg

Our North Carolina nursing home negligence attorneys understand that a federal study of adult bed rails by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was launched late last year – but only after more than a decade of complaints.

The truth is, the government has known since at least 1995 that elderly people were dying and suffering major injury as a result of getting their heads and necks caught in between the slats. Yet no decisive action, such as a recall, was ever taken.


The reason is multi-pronged, but much of it has to do with the slow wheels of government bureaucracy.

For starters, no one could decide how these devices should be classified – as a medical device or as a consumer product. The reason this matters is because regulation of medical devices is done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, while consumer products are regulated by the CPSC. Without a definitive classification, neither agency was eager to take charge on the issue.

Secondly, there was a great deal of push back from the bed rail and nursing home industries, as a redesign of the products and mandatory replacement would have cost millions of dollars.

And finally, when the regulatory agencies first became aware of problems, Congress was in anti-regulation mode. Legislation passed in the 1990s would have required multiple layers of approval, which both agencies decided they would be unlikely to get anyway.

Meanwhile, hundreds were dying and tens of thousands were being injured. Since 1995, when a bioethics professor in Minnesota first issued an alert to federal regulators regarding problems with bed rails, some 550 people have died as a direct result of their use. Additionally, it’s estimated that roughly 4,000 people a year suffer injuries – most of those elderly patients requiring either home health care assistance or full-time care in a residential nursing home facility.

In all likelihood, these are low estimates, as not all bed rail injuries and deaths are reported as such by hospitals and medical examiners. These are only the those that regulators were able to cull together from incidents that were reported.

Back in 2006, the FDA did push the bed rail industry to adopt “voluntary guidelines” with regard to the design of the devices, but injuries and deaths continue.

So why study the issue now?

Like many agents for change, this one was prompted by a tragedy. In late 2006, an 81-year-old woman living in Washington state was suffering from dementia, and her husband could no longer manage her care. She was placed in a nursing home where she could receive 24-7 care.

But five months later, she was found dead in her bed – having been strangled when her neck was caught in the bed rail.

Her daughter began writing to both the FDA and the CPSC, only to learn that these entities already knew of the dangers. She stayed persistent, conducting her own research of the issue, which she forwarded to local officials.

It paid off, and the CPSC agreed to study the issue.

Still, the agency called that the first step. Definitive action has yet, at this point, to be taken.

If your loved one has been harmed by nursing home negligence in North Carolina, contact Lee Law Offices 1-800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Consumer Agency Finds Most Adult Bedrail Deaths Are Among Those 60 and Older, Nov. 29, 2012, By Ron Nixon, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:
Selecting a Nursing Home: Easy Tips to Make the Right Choice, Oct. 13, 2012, North Carolina Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer Blog

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