Etsy Sued After Toddler is Strangled to Death by Amber Teething Necklace

Etsy Sued After Toddler is Strangled to Death by Amber Teething Necklace May 10, 2019
Deacon Morin wearing the amber teething necklace purchased on Etsy.

A California mother is suing Etsy after an amber teething necklace purchased on the site killed her son. Danielle Morin’s 18-month-old son died in October 2016 while taking a nap at daycare.

In October 2016, Deacon Morin took a nap while at daycare. During the nap, the necklace strangled Deacon. Workers at the daycare noticed Deacon unresponsive but failed to act promptly to save his life.

Only days after the incident happened, Danielle Morin removed her toddler from life support. Police in California arrested Sagan Marriott and Deborah Jimenez for child cruelty with possible death and injury and involuntary manslaughter.

During the investigation,  ABC7 reported that police learned that the daycare center was only licensed for four infants but had six enrolled. Additionally, police determined that the women failed to call 911 when they found Deacon unresponsive. Instead, they called the daycare center’s owner and waited for her to arrive.

Both women pleaded guilty in September 2018. Spokeswoman Kimberly Fuller of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office gave ABC News the details of their sentences.

The court sentenced Jimenez to five days in county jail, three years probation, and ordered her to attend a 52-week child abuse program. Marriott received a sentence of 240 days in county jail, three years probation, and ordered to complete a year-long child abuse treatment program.

After the criminal phase ended, Danielle Morin decided to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Etsy. According to Morin, she received the amber teething necklace as a gift at her baby shower. Her friend purchased the necklace through a Lithuanian company on Etsy.

The vendor advertised the necklace on Etsy as having a break-away clasp to prevent strangulation. However, the necklace Deacon received had a screw-like clasp.

With the lawsuit, Morin hopes to hold Etsy accountable for the products they sell on their platform. According to Etsy’s terms of service, the website is not responsible for the products sold on the site.

Etsy provides a venue for buyers to discover and purchase from sellers around the world. It is important to note that Etsy is not a part of that transaction. By shopping on Etsy, you understand that:

  1. You are not buying directly from Etsy, but from one of the many talented sellers on Etsy;
  2. Etsy does not pre-screen sellers and therefore does not guarantee or endorse any items sold on Etsy or any content posted by sellers (such as photographs or language used in listings or shop policies).

The user agreement also says,

“Etsy cannot and does not make any warranties about their quality, safety or even their legality. Any legal claim related to an item you purchase must be brought directly against the sellers of the item. You release Etsy from any claims related to items sold through our Services.”

Through this agreement, Etsy denies customers the right to hold the website liable for any purchases made. Etsy’s defense in the lawsuit is that Morin cannot sue due to their terms of service.

However, Morin received the necklace as a gift and never agreed to the terms of service. Etsy requested the court dismiss the case due to their terms of service. However, the judge denied their request based upon Morin receiving the necklace as a gift.

Morin’s lawyer John Carpenter says Etsy’s user terms are unethical because Etsy is a partner in the sale of the transaction. For every item sold on Etsy, the website takes a commission. Therefore, Etsy is not just a platform hosting the products but a partner in the sale.

Following Deacon’s death, Morin purchased necklaces with breakaway clasps. She gave them to parents of children she noticed that were wearing necklaces with screwed clasps.

“I’ve probably had a handful now that I’ve switched out,” she said.

Both the Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents not to use necklaces on infants and toddlers.

Deacon’s death prompted the FDA to issue a warning to parents about the dangers of the necklaces in December 2018.

The FDA is alerting parents, caregivers, and health care providers that necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry marketed for relieving teething pain should not be used with infants or to provide sensory stimulation to persons with special needs, such as autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Such use could lead to strangulation, choking, serious injuries, or death. The safety and effectiveness of teething jewelry to treat teething pain and/or provide sensory stimulation have not been established.

The FDA recommended that parents discontinue the use of the necklaces. Additionally, the agency urged doctors to educate parents on the dangers of using the necklaces.

Additionally, the FDA warned parents about the claims made by vendors.

In addition to choking and strangulation concerns, amber teething necklaces contain a substance called succinic acid, which allegedly may be released into an infant’s blood stream in unknown quantities.

Manufacturers of these products often claim succinic acid acts as an anti-inflammatory and relieves teething and joint pain. The FDA has not evaluated these claims for safety or effectiveness and recommends parents not use these products.

The homeopathic community has pushed amber necklaces as an option to relieve pain. The theory used to sell the product is that amber released succinic acid which is a healing property. However, for the amber to release succinic acid, the amber must reach a temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The necklaces are trendy in the alternative health and natural parenting world. Despite the anecdotes by parents of claiming the necklaces work, there is no scientific evidence supporting they work.

Deacon’s death highlights the dangers associated with these necklaces. Despite his death, Etsy continues to sell teething necklaces with screw clasps. The website has a responsibility not to sell products that can harm or kill children.

Hopefully, Danielle Morin’s lawsuit is successful. A win by Morin could enforce changes and regulations in the e-commerce world. By Etsy stating they are not responsible is predatory and deceptive. Necklaces made by the international vendors would never make it to the United States without sites like Etsy.

Despite the warning by the FDA and Deacon’s death, Etsy continues to sell the necklaces on their site. Another vendor from Lithuania is selling necklaces with screw clasps. The vendor, the Amber Guru, markets the product as the “perfect gift.”

 

A search of “amber teething necklaces” brings up dozens of vendors selling the products. If Etsy knows the products are harmful, they should be held responsible for selling them. Hopefully, Danielle Morin wins in court.

 

 

*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.

She co-hosts the YouTube show, “The Smoking Nun,” with Kyle Curtis on The Non-Sequitur Channel. The show airs weekly and tackles pseudoscience, current events, and crime stories.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • WallofSleep

    “Both the Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of
    Pediatrics urge parents not to use necklaces on infants and toddlers.”

    Duh?!? I’m flabbergasted that people even need to be told this.

  • persephone

    Many moons ago, babies and toddlers were dying because parents would fasten pacifiers on a ribbon or string around the child’s neck.

    I feel horrible for this mother, but there’s so much involved in this suit that it’s either going to get tossed immediately or it’s going to drag on for years.

  • WallofSleep

    There was definitely malfeasance on the part of the caretakers, so I think they should be largely to blame in this, but still…

  • swbarnes2

    Too bad the caretakers didn’t have a safe sleep policy. Letting a kid sleep with a necklace is all kinds of stupid.

    And who thinks the Lithuanian company is selling fake amber?

    If Etsy knows the products are harmful, they should be held responsible for selling them.

    It seems rough to expect Etsy to know safety regs for every kind of product anyone sells through them. Is it even illegal in the US to sell a screw cap necklace for a baby?

  • Knitting Cat Lady

    I don’t feel all that sorry for the mother. Who on earth puts a necklace on a toddler?!

    The day care staff AND the parents belong in jail.

  • Samantha Thompson

    I had to cut one off a kid and his was a break away clasp. Amber does NOT work and anyone that puts this on a kid and the kid dies should be held responsible as well.

  • phatkhat

    As a former seller on Etsy, I have to disagree. Etsy, Amazon, eBay, Sears, Walmart… there are a LOT of companies that allow third party sellers to sell through them. You sign up, pay any required fees, set up shop, and sell your wares. There are user agreements about not selling illegal items, but the companies cannot vet every one of the thousands or millions of sellers. On eBay, Chinese and Indian sellers get banned and are right back with a new ID. With millions of sellers worldwide, they cannot check every seller nor monitor them.

    Yes, Etsy gets a commission. But they basically offer a platform that sellers pay to use, and it is just like renting a storefront in a mall. Is the mall responsible if one of the renters sells faulty products? We cannot childproof the world no matter how hard we try. I find the warnings on almost every product I buy ludicrous. Don’t people have any common sense?

    I think the lawsuit is kinda shaky. And I also think mommy is also to blame. Why in the world would someone put a necklace of any kind on a child of 18 months without constant adult supervision? No matter what kind of clasp it has, it can fail, and the child can choke or pull it apart and swallow it and choke. DUH!
    The caregivers were certainly wrong, but so was mom. And giving out “safer” necklaces to other kids???? What is she thinking? ANY necklace at all is unsuitable for a toddler.

  • phatkhat

    Not to mention that it is impossible to know the laws in every country you sell to. I sold internationally, and always had a disclaimer that the buyer was responsible for obeying the laws in their country on purchases. And is the amber necklace actually illegal here? If not, I don’t think the lawsuit is going far.

    As to fake amber, heh. They most likely are. Now if the amber is fake, Etsy will put the seller on probation or suspend them.

  • swbarnes2

    I guess Etsy could try and say “That product is so obviously unsafe for a baby, you are not allowed to put the words ‘baby’ or ‘child’ anywhere in the item description” but how many products can they identify and single out like that?

    The AAP warns against crib bumpers too, but tons of places sell them (and not the thin breathable meshes, but the solid kind). Tons of people probably get them as gifts. If no one sued Babies ‘R Us, no one going to successfully sue Etsy for merely hosting the transaction.

  • phatkhat

    Actually, in regard to items for babies and children, sellers are told to make sure that items comply with safety regulations. Non-toxic paint and materials, for example. They expect the sellers to be responsible for doing the right thing. But how would someone in Lithuania know what is or isn’t okay in the US. They are selling to countries all over the globe, some of which may have different standards. The global market is a two-edged sword.

  • Jennny

    Now I’m a granny, I am sometimes amazed at the gadgets, the useless frills and fripperies that are marketed to today’s mothers as vital, as essentials that for centuries…and centuries…we managed without. And amazingly, our children survived! My DD was given a necklace to wear made of chunky beads so that the breastfeeding baby clutched it and concentrated on feeding. Having b/fed my own and seen many other mums do the same…I don’t recall distraction from the boob being much of a problem….and there are countless gadgets like that sold with the implication that not to use them will mean your little one is deprived of something absolutely essential to their growth, development and well being. So you are guilt-tripped into buying them.

  • Lisa Cybergirl

    I suspect it would be difficult if not impossible to bring a case against someone in Lithuania.

  • therealcie

    Most of all, I’m very sorry this sweet child died. The maker of the necklaces is irresponsible. Etsy is irresponsible for not insuring that people aren’t selling dangerous products via their platform. Parents who put these necklaces on their children are behaving ignorantly. In the end, it’s the kids who lose.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Perhaps she should sue the “friend” that gave her the necklace as a gift in the first place?

    Remember when we were young, and your parents warned you that, “We’re going to get sued and lose the goddamned house!”

    This woman, the dumbass who gave her this nonsense, is one who deserves to get sued and lose the goddamned house.

    Certainly the Etsy business model leaves them wide open to unscrupulus business practice, and they need to protect themselves. No disclaimer is going to get them out of trouble.

    I do have a question – when you buy something from Etsy, do you pay the seller directly or do you pay Etsy and they distribute the money? If you pay the money to the company directly, and then they send a payment to Etsy, I think this is on weaker ground, and different from if you paid Etsy and they then paid the business.

  • Carra McClelland

    You pay Etsy, they take their cut, they despot the rest in the account you specify.
    https://www.etsy.com/payments

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    OK, then they are not just offering the space to do business, they are participating. If Etsy is taking the money, then they are absolutely responsible for what gets sold, no question.

    The customer is right to sue them. They have the right to sue the business, certainly, to recover their losses, but they have no grounds to deny responsibility.

  • Sophotroph

    They could just search the database for “amber teething necklace” and any other known problem items. It wouldn’t be perfect, but they certainly have a legal obligation to do their due diligence here.

  • phatkhat

    Actually, it depends. Some sellers take PayPal directly. Those would be the old sellers who were able to keep PayPal. I think now the only choice is Etsy’s payment service. But still, it isn’t Etsy, it’s a third party processor. Etsy never should have let their marketplace be flooded with Chinese and other foreign sellers, but they did, because they were greedy. Not all the foreign sellers are bad – I’ve bought TONS of stuff from Chinese sellers on eBay, but Etsy wasn’t eBay. Now they are.

  • phatkhat

    They have millions of things in their shops. There are I don’t know how many sellers. They cannot police every item sold. If enough people complain, they will shut down shops, but someone must see an outlaw item and report it.

    The question is, are amber teething necklaces ILLEGAL. If they are not, then that’s the end of it. And obviously the mother is a nutcase. She’s distributing more amber necklaces with, supposedly, safer clasps. DUH.