Nursing Home Bed Rails Pose Risk of Death and Injury to Patients

According to a recent article in the New York Times, Clara Marshall, an older woman suffering from dementia, moved into a nursing home after her family was no longer able to provide the care she needed. Tragically, after only five months in the facility, Clara was found dead in her room, strangled after getting her neck caught in side rails meant to protect her from rolling out of bed.

It was only after her death, once her daughter had begun writing to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration that she discovered that both agencies had known for more than a decade about deaths associated with bed rails. She was shocked that two agencies devoted to ensuring consumer safety had failed to act despite years of warnings regarding the danger of such bed rails. After years of pushing by Ms. Marshall’s daughter the FDA and the CPSC have finally launched an investigation into bed rail deaths.

Data compiled by the government from 2003 through May 2012 shows that 150 seniors died after they became trapped in bed rails. Over the same stretch of time an astounding 36,000 older adults were forced to seek emergency room treatment for bed rail injuries. Looking further back, since the first warnings were issued back in 1995, about 550 bed rail-related deaths have occurred. Last year alone the FDA data indicates 27 people died. Though these figures were plenty high, officials say the problem is likely understated given that many doctors and coroners fail to list bed rails as the official cause of death or injury.

Sadly, experts who have studied the deaths say they are avoidable. While the FDA did issue some safety warnings about bed rails in the mid-1990s, the agency did not go far enough and failed to order safety labels placed on them. Instead, only voluntary guidelines have been offered.

One of the problems stopping further regulation has been a question over which agency is responsible for bed rails. Are they medical devices under the purview of the FDA, or are they consumer products regulated by the commission? Though neither agency has wanted the responsibility before, that may be changing as the CPSC has said that it has begun reviewing deaths and injuries associated with bed rails and will consider what actions to take after its study is complete, possibly by the end of this month.

While it’s good news that the agencies have finally decided to take this problem seriously, the more than a decade delay is alarming. Families should have been properly warned about the possible dangers of bed rails and those with a poor design should not have been allowed to stay on the market.

If you or someone you know have been injured by a defective product and you would like to discuss your case with an attorney, please contact the Georgia product liability litigation attorneys at Pope McGlamry P.C. today to schedule a free consultation.

Source: “After Dozens of Deaths, Inquiry Into Bed Rails,” by Ron Nixon, published at