A Delicate Debate

June 7, 2010 by admncc

As a parent, it breaks my heart to hear about stories where children’s lives have been lost or irreparably changed by accidents.  That’s a parent’s worst nightmare!  I’ve seen stories where I felt a parent or someone else was to blame.  I’ve seen stories where it truly was an accident.  And I’ve seen stories where a retail product was to blame.  None of those is easier to accept than the other.

So let’s discuss the story of 18-month old Camryn Surman, from Cranberry, PA.  In July 2009, Camryn’s mother found the toddler with the lid of a wicker trunk on her head.  Camryn was “in a choking position on the edge of the box.”  The above-story went on to say, “While confident it was only moments because there were adults nearby, no one knows just how long Camryn was trapped by the box.”  Regardless, the damage was done.  Even though the mother immediately started resuscitation efforts, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune Review story, Camryn “suffered a devastating anoxic brain injury.”  And according to a KDKA story, now Camryn “can’t move her arms, can’t move her legs, is on a feeding tube, is on a trach, can’t speak (and) has impaired vision.”

Parents, Eric and Laura Surman, have now sued Target, who was the exclusive distributor of the trunk.  But that’s where the debate begins…

After doing some research regarding this incident, nowhere was I able to find the exact amount of time that the child was being choked for.  The description varies from being noticed immediately to several moments passing to longer, but all reports confirm that the mother was in the home at the time.  And I was able to find out that up to three adults may have been present in the home at the time of the accident.  So would that suggest that multiple adults were not keeping an eye on an 18-month old child?  My daughter is six years old and we still don’t let her play outside alone.  But I can tell you one thing – when she was 18 months old, she was in our sight at all times.

I also started to question the ethics behind the parents suing Target.  The basis for their case is that they used the wicker trunk as toy box, but it was unsafe.  The lawsuit, which you can read here, further says that the trunks “are sold without specific instructions, warnings or limitations.”  And it claims that Target’s web site said the trunk was “perfect as storage for toys, pillows or other big items.”  But when you look at a picture of the trunk here, my initial opinion isn’t to think that it could be a toy box.  The Surman family was actually able to get the trunk recalled through the CPSC.  But ironically, their lawsuit still refers to it as a “trunk” and not a toy box.

So, I find myself wondering:

  • If between one and three adults were physically present inside the home at the time of the accident, was it avoidable?
  • Was someone watching the child or was the she within their sight at all times?
  • How long was the child unsupervised and/or choking?
  • Is a woven storage trunk a suitable toy box?
  • Is it reasonable to assume that any trunk could hold toys?
  • Should Target have had nire descriptive instructions and/or warnings?
  • Is it parental neglect, a true accident or should Target pay up for negligence?

John Gismondi, the family’s attorney, thinks Target should pay.  I’m not sure that I’m there yet…

All Posts / Family/Lifestyle / Law and Order / Parenting / Relationships / Retail / Safety Accidents Involving Children / Accidents Involving Retail Products / Camryn Surman / CPSC / Cranberry / Eric and Laura Surman / John Gismondi / KDKA / Lawsuits / PA / Parenting / Pittsburgh Tribune Review / Target /


  1. Jacki says:

    You know, I really feel sorry for companies nowadays. Not only do they worry about staying profitable, but they have to worry about keeping people safe from their own stupidity.

    To me, this case sounds like an unfortunate accident, and this is a frivolous lawsuit. I don’t think the trunk manufacturer purposely sold a defective or dangerous product. It’s a freaking trunk! Why should it come with pages of warning labels and instructions on proper usage?

    I equate it to a child slamming their hands in a door. Should houses and cars come plastered with warning stickers about the dangers of opening/closing doors? Or walking up/down stairs?

    And I totally agree with you about parental supervision. My daughter will soon be 6, and I don’t let her play alone outside. Not only can she get hurt on her swing set or trampoline, but you just never know when some freak is going to come through the neighborhood and look for children. When she was 18-months old, she was never in any room alone, except to sleep. Even then we would check on her once in a while. Heck, we still check on her when she goes to sleep, before we go to bed. Sometimes she tangles her sheets around her arms and legs.

  2. NeoConDon says:

    I can’t imagine that the manufacturer would be responsible for this death. I don’t think the parents should be considered responsible for this death either. Accidents happen. Human beings make mistakes, and over look things, or don’t realize things. These parents will FEEL responsible for the rest of their lives, that should be enough.

  3. Candice says:

    I’m with NeoConDon on this one. It’s pretty much a freak accident, suing Target isn’t going to make home safer or anything. It’s an awful story, but a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I think…

  4. Sugar says:

    Instructions? Open…..close…..open…..close. How hard is it? Plainly you can see that it isn’t geared towards children, so why would you use it as a children’s toy storage? The lid must have been heavy for a toddler not to be able to lift it off. I bet it matched the furniture and that’s why they wanted to use it.

    I don’t think they should sue Target for their parental error. It was an accident.

  5. The child should have been supervised. It is not Target’s fault that they couldn’t possible predict a child was end up choking on it. Sheesh.

    I’m so tired of people blaming something else for their own lack of responsibility.

  6. Angelica says:

    AHEM!!! I don’t think Target should be blamed for this accident. I don’t know why people automatically want to sue companies in which they shop. I tripped and broke my leg, does that mean I get to sue Payless or Footlocker? I know comparing a broken leg to death/ICU-patient isn’t quite comparable, but the thought behind it is the same. That’s like people suing McDonald’s for the coffee being hot. Obviously, a wicker hamper is not a suitable toy for a child. Wicker, probably the one I’m thinking of too, is usually rough. Kids need soft stuff and fluffy.

    This kind of pissed me off so it started to ramble and not make sense. ;D

  7. Titfortat says:

    Accidents happen and when humans are in pain they lash out. That pretty much sums up the parents behaviour.

  8. Jen says:

    I’m sure on some level that in suing Target the parents can assuage some of their own guilt over this terrible accident. Blaming the manufacture makes it easier to deal with such a tragic event. Even if no one is to blame, how do you live with it?

  9. rachael says:

    I don’t think suing makes the situation any better. I feel like people sue others to make them feel better for their own stupidity, such as the woman who sued McDonalds for the coffee being too hot and burning her because she spilled it on herself. It’s a sad situation yes, but take accountability. Watch your kids.


  10. C. Princess says:

    I agree with Reforming Geek’s comment.

    This is a very tragic story but it could have been avoidable: an adult should have been nearby.

  11. C. Princess says:

    P.S. Bad grammar……”could have been AVOIDED.

  12. What a sad story!!! 🙁 I don’t think the manufacturer should be held responsible.

  13. What was the basis for the recall? Have their been prior accidents involving toddlers and the trunks? Is there a simple fix the company could have used?

    I would want to know a bit more before passing judgment, though the case at first blush seems pretty weak.

  14. MajorLeague09 says:

    What a surprize. Parents ignore there child, sadly the child dies, and the parents want to blame everyone but themselves and want to make money. I have a 16 month old son and I keep my eye on him all the time. You have to pay attention!!! They get into everything. They are curious and want to explore and play with anything they can get there hands on. How there were 3 adults in the house and not one of them wondered where the child was. If you can’t hear the child, that usually means that they are into something they shouldn’t be. It’s a sad situation but it’s not the stores fault that you were not paying attention to your child.

  15. NeoConDon says:

    I have four boys, ages 8 down to 2. It is impossible to keep your eye on your child ALL THE TIME. Accidents do happen. Human beings overlook things and make mistakes. The parents will be haunted by this forever, but it is not their fault. It was an accident.

  16. Zig the "People" person says:

    I havea 15 month old. I think that parentsmust letchikldren explore for themselves. I keep a pretty close eye on my son. I would never let him play outside alone yet. When he leaves any room, while I am watching him, I follow him! I may let him go anywhere and touch everything/anything, but I always have my eye on him! He needs to think he has his space, but, as his father, I am responsible for him and his actions.

  17. Jane says:

    NeoConDon, I think you’re wrong. It is possible to keep your eyes on your kids at all times. Just like Zig said. Maybe not the older ones, but definitely the younger ones. Maybe spend less time on the internet. Ha!

  18. NeoConDon says:

    …I guess in Jane’s house, they take turns keeping an eye on the kids through the night while they sleep…maybe they sit in the room during nap time. Every day is “take your kid with you to the bathroom day…”

  19. MajorLeague09 says:

    I agree with Zig. I allow my son to explore and figure things out on his own. But I always know where he is and what he’s doing. I don’t know how many times that i’m trying to get dishes loaded in the dishwasher and it takes 20 mins to get this done because I have to walk away from it to check on him. But it’s worth taking 20 mins for a job that could easily take 5 mins to do to make sure that he’s okay. I understand that accidents happen but just think for a minute that if 1 of the 3 adults there were paying attention this child might still be able to run and play.

  20. Zig the "People" person says:

    NCD, you are a moronic crowd pleaser! Admit. You are wrong. You sit home all day and don’t watch your kids? Yeah, right! If this were at all true, your wife would get your ass out of your house, to get a Job, so fast it would make your pinhead spin! You talk a good game, but, in the end, all you have is talk! And your sons will still grow up to know that their father sat at home on his ass while their mother went out and earned an honest living! Is that the legacy with which you want to leave your sons? It probably is and will be your legacy, you piece of white trash! Do your wife a favor…Give her my number. She needs and is yearning for and to have a REAL man!

  21. NeoConDon says:

    Now THAT was funny, Zig…!!!

  22. christine gipko says:

    First off for all of you ignorant people this child is not dead. She is very much alive. The parents are doing everything they can to give her some quality of life. Both parents do work, and the mother was watching the child, she turned her head to give instructions for her sick 5 year old who had just gotton a diabetic insulin pump. I hope that that all of you never have sorrow in your lives.

  23. Hal says:

    Christine, wow, you came out swinging. But I think you missed the point of the post. Nowhere did it say that the child was dead. Most commenters agreed that accidents happen, so it became a debate about parenting.

    I will say that none of the news stories said that the mom merely “turned her head.” In fact, they suggest the opposite; that nobody knows how long the child was choking. It’s an unfortunate story all around.

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