Bunk Bed Accidents Account for 71,000 ER Visits Each Year
An advocacy group founded by a Georgia Tech student who suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling from a top bunk is urging college campuses to require bed rails.
In January 2015, Clark Jacobs was a sophomore at Georgia Tech when he fell out of his seven-foot lofted bed in his sleep and hit his head, fracturing his skull. As a result, he suffered a stroke and a brain bleed and was in a coma for three months.
Nearly five years later, in November 2019, San Diego State University (SDSU) student Dylan Hernandez died after falling out of his bunk bed and hitting his head. An autopsy concluded Hernandez had fractured his skull and suffered a brain bleed that ultimately led to his death. The medical examiner said the cause of death was accidental blunt force trauma to the head.
Hernandez’s family sued SDSU and the bunk bed manufacturer, Foliot Furniture Pacific, claiming the beds featured safety rails that were defective and contributed to 550,000 deaths nationwide over a 16-year period, and 10 injuries at SDSU between 2017 and 2019, CBS8 reports. SDSU disputes the claims, alleging the school has only had two known incidents involving bunk beds in the previous five years.
A whistleblower, identified only as a parent of an SDSU student and former alumni, lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) over the safety of bunk beds at SDSU following Hernandez’s death, according to NBC San Diego. The complaint alleged that in response to a housing shortage, the school is cramming students into small rooms and relying on lofted beds to fit more students in a dorm.
“These bunk beds did not exist in the residence halls until recently, when the university for the first time in its history, mandated that all sophomores live in residence halls and pay the university their rent,” reads the complaint. “This led to a housing shortage in which SDSU brought in bunk beds to cram 3-4 adults into a small bedroom with no kitchen, living space, or bathrooms. They then increase the rent by 30-50%. There have been many complaints about these living conditions in addition to the unsafe and possibly illegal bunk beds.”
People Ages 18-21 Twice as Likely to Suffer Bed-Related Injuries
A study released in 2018 estimates 71,000 patients between the ages of 4-21 are treated each year in emergency rooms for bunk and loft bed injuries. Young adults ages 18-21 — the most common ages of college students — are twice as likely to suffer from bed-related injuries compared to children ages 13-16, with falls being the cause 75% of the time. However, colleges and universities are not required to follow CPSC’s guidelines for children’s beds.
DCI reports that according to Lara McKenzie of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, “Federal regulations regarding bunk beds don’t apply to institutional beds featured in college dorms, prison, and the military, due to the cost of compliance and low benefits. For college students in particular, it’s up to the consumers themselves to ensure their beds are safe.”
Two years after his traumatic injury, Jacobs returned to Georgia Tech to finish his mechanical engineering degree, all while he suffered extreme fatigue and headaches. Along with his studies, he founded an advocacy group with his mother called Rail Against Danger (RAD). The website includes first-hand accounts of other bunk bed accidents where students were seriously injured or died. It also features a “Wall of Fame or Shame” to hold schools accountable if they do not have standardized guardrails on bunk beds and to give recognition and praise to those who do.
As a result of the group’s efforts, in August 2017, the University System of Georgia (USG) started requiring all public campuses to offer bed safety rails to students for free. In the fall of 2019, rails became a required safety feature for any USG beds higher than 36 inches off the ground.
In July 2022, the COREY Safety Act was introduced in the U.S. House. If passed, it would amend the Clery Act of 1990 to expand required college safety reporting to not only include data on crime and fire but on accidents resulting in death or serious injury. According to a study from the American College Health Association, crime and fire only account for 0.5% of deaths on college campuses while accidents account for 10.8%, making it the leading cause of death for U.S. college students.
“This bill will prevent injuries and save lives by creating the necessary metrics that meet a new safety standard to allow students, parents, and stakeholders to view, invest, and ultimately improve college safety from all angles,” says RAD.
For parents or students concerned about the dangers of bunk beds without rails, RAD says there are several things that can be done to help “close a loophole in our current system that allows institutional beds to remain unsafe and unregulated,” including approaching campusing housing directors and reporting the issue to the CPSC. Additional information and recommendations for advocacy can be found here.
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