What Manufacturers Know and How Accidents Can be Prevented
Tragedies can happen in an instant, especially when children are involved. Most parents are keenly aware of dangers their child may encounter within the home, and have taken precautions to prevent accidents. In the case of drowning due to pet door egress, however, parents do not even realize a risk exists, believing instead that their child is safely contained inside of the home. Containing a child indoors eliminates the hazard of the child reaching the outdoors and the myriad of dangers that exist there, including water hazards, traffic, animals, abduction, and other danger.
Most parents would not leave young children unattended outdoors, but due to a largely unforeseen danger, that is essentially what is happening. Year after year, cases of children drowning after accessing a pool or other body of water through a pet door are reported by the media. In recent years, there have been over seventy reported cases of pet door-related drownings, however, an exact statistic is unknown. This is due to the fact that the problem often goes unreported and most accidental drownings are classified only by cause of death, and do not include the manner by which water was accessed. The publicized reports only scratch the surface when it comes to accounting for dangers associated with pet door egress by children. This problem is compounded by the details of incidents involving child death or injury being lost in the shadow of the overall tragedy and therefore not being fully accounted for or reported. It is also a problem that has invoked little or no response from manufacturers of pet doors, leaving consumers at grave risk.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports there are about 260 drowning deaths of children younger than 5 each year in swimming pools, and an estimated 2,725 children are treated annually in hospital emergency rooms for pool submersion injuries with the majority occurring in residential pools(1). In 2005, of all children 1 to 4 years old who died, nearly 30% died from drowning(2). Although drowning rates have slowly declined, fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years(3). Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents. In-ground pools are not the only water hazard, though, as retention ponds, lakes, and even small “kiddie-pools” can pose a substantial drowning risk to a child. In addition to water hazards, there are other dangers which a child may encounter once they reach the outdoors unattended, including, but certainly not limited to the risk of encountering traffic, getting lost, risk of dog and other animal bites, or other injuries. Knowing they have the ability to prevent and warn of children accessing the outdoors by using their products, manufacturers have a responsibility to take action.
The size of a pet door opening can seem deceptively small, especially in doors intended for smaller pets. In fact, a survey of the industry reveals that a size “medium” pet door typically has an opening measuring 8 x 10 inches, which is just smaller than a standard sheet of paper. These doors are recommended by manufacturers for use with pets up to 40 pounds. A 95th percentile, three-year-old male child weighs only 38 pounds(4), and it’s been shown a child of this size can easily pass through this opening and into danger.
Warnings by most pet door manufacturers of this danger are non-existent or insufficient. Additionally, it can be difficult to conceive that a child can fit through an opening the size of a doggie door. A simple warning to consumers would alert them to this fact and to the potential for danger, which is known to the industry. There are also reasonable and economically feasible alternatives to the simple flap-style pet door closure, yet companies are still marketing and selling doggie doors with no locking mechanism and without warnings. Manufacturers, while quick to blame parents for a lack of supervision, are aware of the risk that pet doors pose to small children. These manufacturers are in a position to reduce or eliminate the risk before the consumer even purchases the product, andunfortunately to date, they have not.
Precious lives are being lost in preventable accidents. It is critically important for manufacturers to address this danger through the use of alternative designs and adequate warnings intended to advise and educate consumers. As product safety attorneys we are prepared to pursue justice for grieving parents until manufacturers take action to prevent these accidents from occurring. It is also equally important that the reporting methods utilized by public agencies, hospitals and medical examiners offices be evaluated, and changes incorporated into their information coding and tracking systems to provide for more accurate recording of how a child may have gained access to a body of water or other hazard. This information is critical to tracking and understanding the true scope of the safety issues surrounding pet door products and the risk they pose to the consuming public.
1. CPSC Warns Toddler Drownings Happen Quickly and Silently; Agency Premiers New Pool Safety Public Service Announcement, May 24, 2007, Release #07-195
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2008) [cited 2008 March 23]. Available from: URL: www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Swimming and Recreational Water Safety. In: Health Information for International Travel 2005-2006. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 2005. 5 Branche CM, Dellinger AM, Sleet DA, Gilchrist J, Olson SJ. Unintentional injuries: the burden, risks and preventive strategies to address diversity. In: Livingston IL, editor. Praeger handbook of Black American health (2nd edition): Policies and issues behind disparities in health. Westport (CT): Praeger Publishers; 2004. p. 317-27.
4. National Center for Health Statistics. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Length for Age and Weight for Age percentiles; National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion 2000; Published May 30, 2000.