DETROIT – The death of 3-year-old Lilliana Kerr has pointed a spotlight on the lack of inspections at schools and churches where children play and learn.
At least seven children have died from folding tables flipping over or falling from wall casings across the country. Experts said parents' eyes might be the only ones inspecting the tables.
In Michigan, there are no longer mandatory state safety inspections in schools. Each district is on its own to try to make buildings safe, and experts said anyone counting on school maintenance staff members to keep children safe is making a serious mistake.
"A lot of things could have been prevented," Tabatha Kerr, Lilliana's mother, said. "Still negligence. It's just easier to call it an accident."
Children have been killed by folding tables in schools and churches in Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Vermont. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has put out warnings about folding tables tipping over or falling from wall casings.
"All the school communities out there that have dilapidated equipment 50 years or older, it's going to happen again," said Greg Rohl, the Kerr family's attorney. "It's happened seven times."
Rohl said schools can't claim ignorance about the potential danger.
"These tables that are known to be defective and over time are going to become death traps," Rohl said. "That's just not an accident."
He filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Detroit and St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, where a table fell from the wall and and crushed Lilliana to death. Tabatha Kerr wants everyone to know about the thousands of other tables in schools all across the country, and in Metro Detroit.
"Nobody should have to deal with this," Tabatha said. "No one should have to live through this."
Local 4 Defender Kevin Dietz called multiple local schools, and none would allow Local 4 inside to see how their folding-table safety systems work, or demonstrate how they inspect and maintain them. A manufacturer said problems arise when tables aren't locked correctly by trained maintenance workers. He said if tables aren't in use, they should be removed or bolted into the wall.
"In a lot of schools, you have nothing," expert Ronald Tyson said. "You have no inspections."
Tyson said the state of Michigan no longer inspects schools annually, and neither does the fire marshal. Tyson advises parents to look closely and speak up.
"I would go right to the principal or the superintendent," Tyson said.
If local school officials ignore concerns, Tyson suggests going over their heads. He said the fact that children are still dying in folding-table incidents shows locals aren't doing the job.
"They failed to act, and I mean, that's just not acceptable, in my opinion," Tyson said.
He said employees should alert the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration. If a complaint is filed, they must come out and do a thorough inspection.
"Once you have an inspection, then you'll be aware of the dangers and you'll be able to do something about them," Tyson said.
Parents should call the fire marshal, Tyson said. He said it's responsible and can save lives.
School employees can file a complaint with MIOSHA here.