Last October, 5-year-old Gigi Zinkel of Homer Glen was accidentally pushed into a metal display hook at a Kohl’s department store in Orland Park. The hook went into her mouth and damaged her gum above her incisor tooth.
Gigi’s mom, Laurie Zinkel, alerted the CBS 2 Investigators after her daughter’s incident and prompted the investigation, which led several other parents to come forward with their concerns.
Christiana Terracciano of Carol Stream was with her daughter, Elisiana, when the 2-year-old lost her balance leaning towards a Valentine’s Day display in 2005 at a Kohl’s store in Bloomingdale. She fell forward onto a wall covered with sharp metal hooks at the checkout counter.
"I turned around and just saw blood squirting out of her eye," Terracciano says. "The hook was inside of her eye."
Terracciano immediately took her daughter to St. Alexus Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. Elisiana had surgery that night to repair her torn tear duct.
Dr. Michael Siegle, a comprehensive general ophthalmologist in Elgin who treated Elisiana, says he’s treated about a dozen patients, both children and adults, with injuries from display hooks.
Six months before Elisiana’s accident, another child was injured at the same store. Samantha Garcia, then 9, suffered a severe eye injury from a metal display hook in August 2004.
Her mother, Lisa DeFranze of Sugar Grove, says Samantha caught her eye on a metal hook when she was leaning in to look at a display.
"All this blood just came out everywhere," DeFranze says. "She needed emergency plastic surgery because the tear duct had torn."
Most injuries could have been prevented by changing the types of display hooks used, according to safety engineer Terry Grisim.
Grisim says some have a protective barrier like plastic price scan tags at the end to protect customers from the edge of the hook. Others have rubber tips that curve upward and are what Grisim considers a safer type of display hook.
The CBS 2 Investigation found that at stores like Kohl’s, these "safer" display hooks are used on the same walls next to hooks with blunt, sharp edges. Kohl’s was contacted about this story but has refused repeated requests for a comment.
"The solution is not elaborate or extravagant, it’s just a matter of using a different kind of hook," Grisim says.
Grisim said the National Safety Council, a non-profit business consulting organization, recommends that hooks holding merchandise should never be placed at eye-level and should always have a protective barrier.
"If there’s not a barrier there to keep the eye away, then they don’t meet that recommendation and then they’re dangerous. There will be eye injuries," Grisim says.
However, stores continue to use the metal hooks.
"It’s not just because kids are clumsy—the hooks are an accident waiting to happen," Terracciano says.
A recent CBS 2 story exposed a preventable danger in the aisles of many retail and department stores. Metal hooks that protrude from walls do more than just hold merchandise. These long, skinny hooks, commonly called display hooks, are causing serious injuries to children and adults.
Dave Savini, Annie Slezickey and Michele Youngerman are members of the CBS 2 Investigative Team. To view the report click on CBS2Chicago.com/investigations or if you have more information, send Dave Savini an e-mail at DVSavini@cbs.com.