Parents of baby who died in crib settle suit

The Patriot Ledger, Thursday, February 24, 2005
by Dennis Tatz

DEDHAM - The parents of Jimmy Reen were devastated when their 13-month-old son suffocated after becoming wrapped in a fitted crib sheet during an afternoon nap nearly seven years ago.

James G. Reen Jr. and his wife, Marie, who blamed Jimmy’s death on a South Carolina manufacturer and retailing giant Wal-Mart, later filed a wrongful-death suit in Norfolk Superior Court.

The two sides recently reached a settlement in the case, which was scheduled for trial next month.

‘‘Ultimately, it’s never over for us,'' said Marie Reen, 35, of Norwood. ‘‘Our son is never coming back.''

The fitted crib sheet that allegedly suffocated Jimmy Reen on May 8, 1998, was made by Mount Vernon Mills Inc., headquartered in Greenville, S.C., and sold by Wal-Mart.

The Reens' attorney, William J. Thompson of the Boston firm of Lubin & Meyer, declined to disclose the settlement amount, but said it was in the high six figures.

‘‘You are never going to replace a child,'' Thompson said. ‘‘This case has never been about the money. Any time you go to trial there is a risk of losing on both sides. The family decided that this made the best sense for them. It’s the end of a long and valiant struggle that the Reens have been waging for seven years.''

As a result of the Reens' 5-year-old lawsuit, more testing is being done and the manufacturer has changed the design of crib sheets to make them safer, Thompson said.

‘‘When Jimmy died, I decided I needed to do some good and spread awareness about crib sheets,'' Marie Reen said.

‘‘We wanted to make other parents aware so they wouldn't have to go through what we went through.

‘‘A crib is the only place where you leave your child unattended. You go to sleep and they go to sleep. It’s supposed to be a safe place for your child.''

Marie Reen was unable to wake her son and used cardiopulmonary resuscitation in an attempt to revive him. Paramedics were also unable to help the boy, who was pronounced dead at Caritas Norwood Hospital.

In court papers, the Reens charged that the crib sheet was ‘‘defectively designed and manufactured, unreasonably dangerous, and not fit for its intended purpose.''

The Reens alleged the crib sheet shrank to such a degree following several washings that Jimmy Reen was able to pull up the corners of the sheet over his face and become entangled.

‘‘This was a tragic accident,'' defense attorney Michael Gallagher of the Lowell firm of Gallagher & Cavanaugh, said.

‘‘The family made certain claims about a crib sheet. The defendants denied those claims and vigorously litigated this matter and ultimately both sides, given the considerable expense of a trial, chose to resolve the case by way of a settlement. They reached out to us and we in good faith responded.''

The Reens' attorney also pointed out in court papers that following her son’s death, Marie Reen designed a safer crib sheet that can cover a mattress like a pillowcase that is secured by a Velcro strip at the opening.

Marie Reen has since obtained a patent for her design.

The Reens' allegations were featured on a segment of the NBC news magazine ‘‘Dateline.''

Court TV had shown an interest in televising the trial nationally.

About a month before Jimmy Reen’s death, Dr. Lowell Fox of Dedham Medical Associates in Norwood, examined the infant and found him to be a well-developed, healthy, 25-pound, 10-ounce baby, according to the Reens' attorney.

The Reens have five other children: Shannon, 9; Meghan, 5; Kaylin, 4; Stephen, 3; and Erin, 11 months.

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