The Dangers of Laundry Detergent Packets

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In 2012, laundry detergent packets were introduced as a less messy alternative to the classic powder and liquid detergents. However, while these popular household items may have made our lives easier they have posed a major problem for parents. Between 2013 and 2014 calls to poison control centers increased by 17 percent as a result of children ingesting these household items.

Why do Children Eat Laundry Detergent Packets?  

These liquid laundry packets are attractive to children for a variety of reasons. These popular cleaning products are popular to children because they look like play items because they are soft and colorful. In addition, they resemble familiar items like candy, toys, and teething products.  While powder detergents also are dangerous to children it has been noted that children, particularly toddlers will walk right past a large box of powder or liquid detergent and seek out these detergent pods because of their packaging and bright colors. In addition, the packets were previously marketed in attractive see-through containers that allowed children to see the colors and have ready access to these pods.

After several reports were released about children being attracted to and ingesting these products Proctor and Gamble announced that they would change their packaging in an attempt to deter children from eating them. Proctor and Gamble announced that they would make their packaging completely opaque so that children could not see the packets. A Philadelphia product liability lawyer at Reiff & Bily is available to schedule your confidential case consultation if your child was hurt from a laundry detergent packet. Call (215) 274-0072 or contact us online.

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What are Common Laundry Detergent Packet Problems? 

As noted above, there have been hundreds of reports of children ingesting these popular products. Both the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued warnings about the dangers of detergent packets in recent months. Interestingly, exposure to laundry detergent pods leads to more severe clinical effects than exposure to traditional liquid laundry detergent.  Some of the more common problems that emergency room doctors and pediatricians have observed when a child has ingested a laundry detergent packet include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Gastrointestinal Damage
  • Vision Loss
  • Death

In November 2012, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a laundry detergent pod poisoning safety alert to highlight the poisoning risk for children. The harms to children from laundry pod ingestion included:

  • 17 cases of coma
  • 6 cases of respiratory arrest
  • 4 cases of pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
  • 2 cases of cardiac arrest

The CPSC issued the following recommendations for parents:

  • Do not let children handle laundry detergent pods
  • Keep detergent pods sealed in their original packaging, and
  • Ensure that laundry detergent pods are locked up and out of sight and reach of children Call Poison Help immediately at 1-800-222-1222 if the packets were swallowed or if exposure to the eye occurred.

Because these packets contain a concentrated dose of laundry detergent cleaner and the membrane surrounding the liquids is easily pierced with teeth or fingers, it is easy for a child to come into contact with the dangerous liquids contained inside.

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A Local and National Problem

Unfortunately, these laundry detergent packets have posed a problem for parents all over the country, and even right here in Philadelphia. In 2016, through April 30, poison centers received reports of 3,795 exposures to highly concentrated packets of laundry detergent by children 5 and younger.  Several of these cases took place right here in the City of Brother Love. In early May 2012, the Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia received notification of a 17-month-old boy bit into a laundry detergent pod and soon began to vomit. He developed marked somnolence, or excessive sleepiness, and respiratory distress. Because of his condition, he was required to be intubated for 1 day. In early June 2012, a ten-month-old girl was brought to a local health-care facility with vomiting, difficulty breathing, and drooling after biting into a laundry detergent pod. As a result of ingesting one of these popular cleaning devices, she was admitted to the intensive care unit. She experienced respiratory distress, was found to have epiglottic swelling on radiography, and underwent emergency endoscopy.  In both of these cases the patients had subsequent swallowing dysfunction requiring nasogastric feeds, but eventually were discharged home on thickened foods with outpatient speech therapy follow-up.

Can I Sue if my Child Ingested a Laundry Detergent Packet?

There has been a lot of concern over these products and how they are marketed and how easy it is for children to gain access to them.  As noted above, Proctor and Gamble changed their packaging as a result of concern over how attractive the clear plastic containers made the products to children.

New York has begun to take measures to combat the rising number of children who ingest these packets and are subsequently harmed. On December 1, 2015, the New York Legislature introduced a bill that would require more child-resistant packaging for all laundry pods that are sold in the state. The New York Legislature is merely echoing the concerns that people have all over the country. That is many people feel that there are not adequate warnings and that the packets are too readily attainable to children.

While there have been several cases filed across the country against the product manufacturers many people wonder if they are able to file a lawsuit right here in Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania product liability law, a plaintiff can proceed against a manufacturer, seller, or distributor of an allegedly defective product on a theory of strict liability under Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which provides that:

(1) One who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to the ultimate user or consumer, or to his property, if (a) the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product, and (b) it is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it is sold. (2) The rule stated in Subsection (1) applies although (a) the seller has exercised all possible care in the preparation and sale of his product, and (b) the user or consumer has not bought the product from or entered into any contractual relation with the seller.

In order for a person to prove their case that the seller of a laundry detergent packet is liable for their child’s injuries they will have to establish the following:

  1. The product was defective.
  2. That the defect existed at the time the product left the manufacturer’s hands
  3. That the defendant was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

This means that in order to prevail a parent will have to prove that the product was defectively manufactured, that it was defectively designed, or that it contained inadequate or improper warnings and or instructions. Chiefly concerning to parents and poison control centers is that there have been inadequate warnings about the products possible dangers.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated that a company or person may only be held liable for injuries caused by a product defect if the consumer was an intended user who was using the product for an intended use. In this case, the intended use of the product is to be used by adults in their laundry. Generally, if a person misuses a product, even if their misuse was foreseeable by the company or manufacturer, then they will not be able to recover for their injuries.  Under Pennsylvania law, a manufacturer has no duty to warn people about open and obvious dangers, however, laundry detergent packets do not appear to pose an obvious danger to children, instead, they see these packets as a toy or candy.

Strategic Representation in Detergent Packet Actions From a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer

Working with an experienced Montgomery County personal injury attorney like those of Reiff & Bily can help you understand your legal options and make informed decisions. While we are always prepared to take the matter to trial, we always seek an outcome that is likely to be favorable to our client’s interest. In some cases, this may mean that a settlement of your claims may protect your interest. However in other matters compromise may not be in your best interests. In matters like these, we prepare strategically and present your case so that the jury can fully appreciate the harm you suffered and its impacts on your life.

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