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Mattel Board Hid Baby Deaths Before Sleeper Recall: Suit (1)

July 14, 2020, 2:26 PMUpdated: July 14, 2020, 7:43 PM

Mattel Inc.'s board and senior leadership were hit with a Delaware lawsuit claiming they spent years hiding deadly problems with the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper before finally recalling it over baby deaths they’d long known about.

“The company was on notice of the more than 30 babies who died and at least 700 other infants who suffered injuries” but “put sales figures and profits above the health and safety of infant users of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper,” the Chancery Court complaint says.

A Fisher-Price spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

“For 90 years, Fisher-Price has made the safety of children its highest priority,” she said.

The shareholder derivative suit, made public Monday, accuses the toy maker’s directors and top executives of ignoring years of red flags about the danger to infants of sleeping at the Rock ‘n Play’s inclined angle—and repeatedly refusing to issue a recall before ultimately caving to a crescendo of public pressure.

The “numerous safety warnings” allegedly came from pediatric experts, consumer groups, and the parents of dead children who sued Mattel and Fisher-Price, its subsidiary.

The company continued to market the product as a “sleeper” in defiance of “documented medical research regarding safe sleep positioning for infants,” according to the 82-page complaint.

Despite that medical consensus, and an earlier recall of a car seat that propped babies up at a similar angle, Mattel never sought expert advice until it began facing litigation, the suit says.

The company allegedly kept the public “in the dark” for years about the risks for infants until a wave of news reports forced it to acknowledge them beginning in November 2018.

It finally recalled the Rock ‘n Play in April 2019, just a week after putting out a warning that gave “the false impression” the product was safe unless misused, according to the complaint.

A wave of litigation followed.

“As a result of the severe dangers and risk of infant fatality associated with the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, the company is facing numerous wrongful death lawsuits, consumer lawsuits, and product liability lawsuits,” the complaint says. “Mattel’s credibility, reputation and goodwill have likewise been damaged.”

Moreover, despite the recall, “the product can still be found in households and daycare centers throughout the United States, continuing to endanger the health, safety, and livelihood of infants and young toddlers,” according to the suit.

It was originally filed under seal July 7.

Cause of Action: Breach of fiduciary duty; unjust enrichment.

Relief: An accounting, damages, costs, fees, and an order requiring the company to reform its corporate governance practices.

Attorneys: The plaintiff is represented by Faruqi & Faruqi LLP.

The case is Kumar v. Bradley, Del. Ch., No. 2020-0552, complaint unsealed 7/13/20.

(Adds third and fourth paragraphs with Fisher-Price response.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Leonard in Washington at mleonard@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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