When Stephanie Metzger bought a Sleep Number bed she got all she had expected — and more.
Metzger has been delighted with the comfortable sleep the bed provides.
“I love the bed,” she said.
What the Emporia woman didn’t love was the “more” — the mold she found inside it.
“When I Googled it, there was a thing that said something about Sleep Number bed and mold issues and I clicked on it,” she said. “Some of the beds made before 2005 had been found to have mold in them.”
Metzger and her husband, Phil, purchased their Sleep Number bed in 2004. She quickly unzipped the pillowtop bed to look at the foam and air baffles below.
“I lifted it up and oh my gosh! ... I lifted up the foam and there on the air chamber was mold,” she said.
The patch was about 12 inches by 6 inches.
She called the Select Comfort company that manufactures the bed to inquire what could be done. The company’s representative told her that mold was not common in the beds and said that replacement parts would be sent to eliminate the problem.
Metzger thought the company should be doing more than replacing parts when customers discover mold.
“I said, ‘Why aren’t you sending out a recall notice? You have all of our information,’” she said. “I can go to any Sleep Number store and they can look my information up immediately. ‘Oh,’ they said, ‘because it’s not that common. It’s rare.’”
Metzger posted her experience on her Facebook page and got back two responses from other people she knew who had found mold on their Sleep Number beds. She also learned mold in a Sleep Number had been an issue for an in-law of one of those people, and that she already had cleaned it up.
Metzger also learned that a class action suit has been filed on behalf of people who own Sleep Number beds that also have exhibited mold inside.
The class-action suit was filed on Oct. 30, 2008, in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, San Jose Division, by Robert M. Gagliasso and Andrew V. Stearns of Bustamante, O’Hara & Gagliasso law firm in San Jose, Calif., on behalf of Molly Stearns, Ruth Rose, Dennis Fuller, Dan Schlesinger, Bonnie Fuller, Karen Williams and Brian Williams, and others that may join the class.
Defendants include Select Comfort Retail Corp. of Minnesota; Bed Bath & Beyond, a New York corporation; The Sleep Train, a California corporation, and “Does 1 through 50,000, inclusive,” which may be extended to include other companies that sell the Sleep Number bed.
The suit lists 17 causes for action, including negligence, breach of express warranty and, concealment, intentional misrepresentation, unfair competition, false advertising, and violations of the Sherman Act, the Cartwright Act and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, act.
The complaint states that the company, which began manufacturing the bed in 1987, used national media and celebrities — Lindsay Wagner, Paul Harvey, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, among others — to promote the beds. The company also sponsors National Public Radio’s Prairie Home Companion show with Garrison Keillor and has arrangements to put Sleep Number beds in Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Ronald McDonald House charities, Fisher House Foundation and Winnebago Industries to install the Sleep Number beds in motor homes, the suit states.
The bed is touted as relieving back pain and improving sleep quality, the suit states.
“Commencing at a date known only to defendants, but as early as 1996, defendants received complaints about mold growing in the Sleep Number beds,” the lawsuit alleges.
Select Comfort sent replacement beds, replacement parts and sometimes refunded purchase price, to consumers “and subsequently were notified on numerous occasions, by consumers, that replacement parts and beds also incubated mold, thus making any replacement futile and without purpose,” the suit stated.
Some of the replacement parts also developed mold.
The suit alleges that after becoming aware of the “inherent defect” in the beds, the defendants failed “to recall the beds or otherwise provide notice to purchasers of the inherent defect.”
The suit also accuses Select Comfort CEO Bill McLaughlin of stating in a Sept. 6, 2004, “Furniture/Today” article that “We (Select Comfort) have intentionally been selective, rather than broad, in our public communication on the issue (mold reports) because we believe it is better for the mattress industry and ourselves not to keep this topic in the headlines, causing unnecessary concern for consumers.”
The suit accuses defendants of consistently misrepresenting, since as late as 2004, that they have not received any complaints of mold, confirmed cases of mold or been put on notice of mold since the redesign or refabrication of the Sleep Number bed and that cases of mold in the Sleep Number bed are rare.
“Select Comfort has publicly stated that ‘there have been 0 confirmed cases of mold in a Sleep Number bed sold after the antimicrobial reformulation in 2005.’”
The complaint alleges class action members have suffered actual damages as a result of the “defendants’ misconduct” and that Sleep Number beds are inherently defective and have grown mold.
Select Comfort contends that mold is common in many products and in the air, and cannot be considered a “defect.”
“The first thing that you need to know is that the propensity to grow mold exists with any upholstered product,” Gabby Nelson said in a telephone interview on Thursday. Nelson is director of internal and external communications for Select Comfort Corp. of Minneapolis, Minn. “So it’s not a product defect. Mold can occur in many different upholstered products. ...
“The only difference with a Sleep Number bed is you have the ability to open it up and take a look at it. ... You cannot do that with an innerspring bed or other upholstered product. It’s not a product defect, because mold can occur in any upholstered product,” Nelson said.
“While the incident of mold is quite rare, we are really on the cutting edge, as far as anti-microbial and addressing the issue. We haven’t had a case of mold confirmed since (2005)”.
Nelson said that customers and recifying product issues for them are her priority.
“We have a policy that if people find mold in their bed, we’re going to do everything we can to make it better,” she said.
Nelson said there was no evidence to suggest that Select Comfort beds have a higher propensity for mold than any other upholstered product.
People who believe there is a mold issue in their Sleep Number beds may call Nelson toll-free at (888) 580-9237.
Adam Stoddard, a law clerk who has been handling Sleep Number customers who have joined the lawsuit, said the firm also is handling some personal injury claims.
“Right now we have Select Comfort online site that they can sign on, submit all their information,” Stoddard said. The company also has a toll-free line for clients to call.
People who need more information about the class-action suit may go to www.selectcomfortclassaction.com, or call toll-free, (888) 346-MOLD, Stoddard said.
Meanwhile, Metzger, who considers sleeping on mold a potential health hazard, is disturbed that the manufacturer is not recalling the beds.
“It’s a huge health hazard,” she said, “and there could be lots of people in this town who have mold and doesn’t even know about it.”
She believes that the company is hiding the issue by failing to notify all of its customers to check their beds for mold.
The Select Comfort company, she said, had given her what she considered excuses for not notifying customers. They said that mold was everywhere, even in regular mattresses.
“On your regular mattresses you don’t know where it’s at because you can’t tear it apart,” she recalled the representative saying.
“Somebody needs to get the word out to people who have these beds,” Metzger said.
The company would not replace the pillow top, but sent pieces of replacement foam and the air chambers that the Metzgers installed after taking the bed outside, to release the mold spores into the air, not into the house.
“I would get headaches, so we would have to spray everything down,” she said. “The mold spores, you know, they go everywhere.”
She could not sleep on the bed with its replacement parts for four or five days after the change-out. And she’s concerned the mold will recur, as it has on other beds that have had components replaced.
“I really love my bed. Absolutely can’t sleep on another bed,” Metzger said. “But do I want to buy another now?”