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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Baby Sling Makers Face Trial Over Infant Death

(CN) - A couple whose 3-month-old daughter died in 2004 can sue the makers of a baby sling despite a statute of limitations, a federal judge ruled.

Ann Heneghan placed her 3-month old daughter, Cathleen Delia Ross, in the Nojo Original Baby Sling for approximately 10 to 15 minutes while shopping in October 2004. When Heneghan tried to put Cathleen back in her car seat, she noticed the child was unresponsive and called paramedics. The child was resuscitated, but eventually found to be brain dead and taken off life support.

Heneghan and her husband John Ross say they were originally told that Cathleen had died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and that the medical examiner never mentioned the Nojo sling as a possible cause of death. Their friend who is a doctor reported the death to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about a month later.

After an investigation, the commission called the Cathleen's death a "terrible, freakish accident" involving SIDS and found the sling was not defective.

Heneghan and Ross claim they first became aware that the Nojo sling might have played a role in Cathleen's death on March 12, 2010, when the commission called Heneghan about a baby sling recall.

Though the recalled sling was a different brand, it was allegedly of the same type. The commission also emailed Heneghan with its new warning about the suffocation hazard posed by slings in the first few months of life.

Heneghan then allegedly contacted the medical examiner who had conducted the original investigation and discovered for the first time that her daughter's death was the result of positional asphyxiation - not Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as she had been told previously.

The 2010 federal complaint claimed that the sling's manufacturer, Crown Crafts Infant Products, failed to warn consumers that the sling should not be used with infants under 4 months old because of asphyxiation dangers. An amended complaint includes Cathleen's father as a co-plaintiff and the man who designed the sling, Dr. William Sears dba Sears Pediatrics and Family Medicine, as a co-defendant.

Heneghan says she bought the Nojo sling after reading about it in Sears' parenting guide, "The Baby Book."

In a motion for summary judgment, Sears and Crown Crafts said a three-year statute of limitations bars the couple's suit.

They note that an emergency room doctor who treated baby Cathleen listed the possible cause of injury as "asphyxia by snugli," and that the medical examiner would have told the couple that the sling had not been ruled out as a cause of death if they had inquired further.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan denied the motion on Jan. 30, saying the dispute is not suited to summary judgment.

"Here, the plaintiffs have provided sufficient detailed factual rebuttals to defendants' assertions regarding notice to indicate that a genuine issue of material fact exists on this point," Bryan wrote. "The judgment of the finder of fact is required to resolve the different versions of the facts asserted by the parties."

The case is set to go to trial on June 4.

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