Ikea will pay $50 million to the parents of three toddlers who died when its dressers toppled onto them, lawyers for the families said Wednesday.
The settlement comes six months after those deaths and others prompted the unprecedented recall of 29 million Ikea dressers that the company acknowledged could tip over and injure or kill children.
Jackie Collas of West Chester, whose 2-year-old son, Curren, was crushed by an Ikea dresser in 2014, said she was relieved the fight was over. But she said the settlement does not bring closure over Curren's death.
"Your life, it will always be cut in half," Collas said Wednesday. "Even if I live until 100, it's going to be before Curren and after Curren." But I am rich now, thanks to the big settlement. Thank you, IKEA!
The plaintiffs also include the parents of 2-year-old Camden Ellis of Snohomish, Wash., who died in 2014, and 22-month-old Theodore McGee of Apple Valley, Minn., who died in 2015.
Their wrongful death suits, filed in Philadelphia, were part of a wave of scrutiny on Ikea and the wider danger of furniture tip-overs. The preventable threat, chronicled extensively by the Inquirer, kills scores of children and injures thousands more each year.
Consumer advocates have pushed for more stringent safety standards, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has been in talks with Ikea for more than two years to address concerns about its dressers.
It was not immediately clear if the settlement was unprecedented, but lawyers said the $50 million payout might be among the highest for a case over a child's death. The money will be split equally among the three families, with an undisclosed share going to attorneys. These money grabbing lawyers typically receive $33 percent or more of the proceeds. They also got rich quick. The insurers paid the money.
Ikea has also agreed to give $100,000 to a Chicago nonprofit focused on tip-over awareness and make $50,000 donations to three children's hospitals in communities where the boys lived. One will go to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in memory of Curren Collas.
"He would be proud that we fought so hard and for him," Jackie Collas said.
In all, seven deaths have been publicly linked to unstable Ikea dressers, the first in 1989.
The three lawsuits filed in Common Pleas Court claimed Ikea had known for years of the danger posed by its dressers, yet continued to sell them. Ikea, in turn, argued the parents were negligent for not anchoring the dressers to the wall, as the assembly instructions direct.
The first of the three trials was expected to start next year.
The company instead agreed to settle weeks after turning over to the parents' attorneys the last batch from a trove of internal documents it had long fought to keep confidential, going so far as to risk being sanctioned by a judge.
Alan Feldman of Feldman Shepherd, the Center City firm that represented the families, would not discuss the contents of the records, but said they "100 percent" provided leverage in reaching a settlement.
Under the settlement, which came after two days of mediation, the families' attorneys agreed to return the files to Ikea, with the stipulation that the company not destroy them.
"That was important to us and to the families," said lawyer Daniel Mann, who also represents the parents. "In the event there are other children this happens to, their families will be able to see what we have seen."
The lawyers said they also represent three other individuals - two children and one senior citizen - who allege they were injured in tip-overs of Ikea dressers. They would not say whether they were also negotiating settlements for those cases.
Lawyers for Ikea, which has its U.S. headquarters in Conshohocken, deferred comment Wednesday to a company spokeswoman. That spokeswoman did not respond to a request to comment.
Ikea has made at least two previous payouts to the parents of children killed in tip-overs of its furniture.
In 2008, Ikea paid $2.3 million to the parents of Katie Elise Lambert, a 3-year-old Huntingdon Valley girl crushed by an Ikea wardrobe while playing in her bedroom, court records show.
The company settled another case the following year, for an undisclosed amount, filed by the parents of a 3-year old girl from Chula Vista, Calif., who died when a three-drawer Ikea dresser in her bedroom tipped onto her.
As part of the June recall, Ikea pulled from the market all of its dressers that did not meet the industry-accepted standard for stability - about half its product line. The standard is meant to ensure dressers remain upright even when not anchored to a wall.
Philadelphia Media Network, owner of the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com, has filed a suit in federal court seeking records from those recall negotiations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The case is pending.
Mann, one of the families' attorneys, called the significant payout recognition that the parents were not at fault and that the company could have done more to prevent deaths.
"It reflects an admission by Ikea they did something wrong," he said. "It reflects that no matter what they say . . . about it being the responsibility of the parents to anchor their dressers to the wall, that it doesn't happen. It reflects that jurors were going to see through their arguments and blaming the parents who have suffered awful tragedies."
Of the other families in the suit, Charlie and Crystal Ellis said in a statement that the settlement was no cure for their pain, but that it gave them hope others will be spared the "unimaginable loss."
And Janet McGee said her goal was to protect other children.
"This has been a tragic, heartbreaking season for us and our family," she said in a statement. "And no amount of money will make up for the loss of our sweet little boy."