A Murphy bed in 1923. (Credit: Wurts Brothers/Museum of the City of New York)
Google the term "Murphy bed," and among the top suggested related searches that pop up is, "Can a Murphy bed kill you?" In short, yes. A Murphy bed could kill you in a freak accident. If not secured and used correctly, there have been incidents of Murphy bed-related injuries and deaths.
Can a Murphy Bed Kill You?
Now we know the answer to that question is yes. But it's not likely.
Truthfully, the cases are few and far between. In 1982, the woeful tale of an intoxicated man being suffocated inside a closed Murphy bed made headlines. Two women were entrapped and suffocated by an improperly installed Murphy bed in 2005. And more recently, in 2014, a Staten Island man's death was allegedly caused by a defective Murphy bed.
(Learn more about wall bed safety in this handy guide to installing a Murphy bed!)
But as The New York Times Magazine writer Jody Rosen so elegantly stated in a 2018 piece about these freak accidents, "It was hardly an epidemic. Statistically speaking, you were probably as likely to die by tripping over an ottoman or walking under a falling piano."
Still, as Rosen noted, "there were enough of these mishaps to seize the imagination, fixing in popular consciousness the image of a bed that could snap you up in its jaws as you slept."
The Origins of the Murphy Bed
Murphy beds have been used as comic props in movies and television shows almost since their invention. According to Smithsonian Mag, William Lawrence Murphy came up with the idea for the fold-out bed around 1900 in San Francisco.
As the legend goes, a love interest prompted the invention of the wall bed. Murphy was taken by a young opera singer. However, it was considered deeply immodest to invite her to enter a gentleman's bedroom. The wall bed allowed Murphy to stow his bed in his closet, hence transforming his one-room apartment from a bedroom into a parlor where the young singer could enter. Murphy originally called his invention "The Disappearing Bed," but it ultimately became known by his moniker.
(The likelihood of a freak accident is very slim. Truthfully, there are many benefits to installing a Murphy bed, and we cover them here)
Murphy Beds and Freak Accidents in Pop Culture
One of the first—and perhaps most famous—instances of a Murphy bed appearing in pop culture was Charlie Chaplin's "One A.M." The 1916 film depicts a five-minute-long struggle between Chaplin and the Murphy bed. It ends with both parties worse for the wear and Chaplin resigning himself to sleep in the bathtub. Throughout the decades, Murphy beds have similarly been used in the media to incite laughter, often by causing injury or frustration. This could explain why people often associate Murphy beds with some sort of freak accident.
Murphy-bed technology has improved vastly since its invention a century ago. If you Google the term "Murphy bed," you'll also find a related search that reads, "Are Murphy beds Safe?"
The research is clear: According to Go Downsize, "When used properly, Murphy beds are not dangerous. They will not fold up against the wall when you are on top of the bed. When the frame is mounted properly on the wall, it will not fold down on you either."
Does a Murphy need to be mounted to the wall? Find out here)
Murphy Beds aren't the Most Likely Cause of a Freak Accident at Home
Like any household product or appliance misused, it can result in injury. But as Rosen pointed out, death by Murphy bed is extremely unlikely. Frayed cords, poor maintenance, and proximity to water all contribute to seemingly safe household appliances becoming dangerous.
Here are a few of the most common household hazards statistically more likely to cause a freak accident than a Murphy bed mishap.
Lint in dryers
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, failing to remove lint from a dryer causes roughly 2,900 fires a year. Those fires result in 100 injuries and five deaths annually.
Extension cords spark more than 3,000 residential fires annually. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this results in an estimated 50 deaths a year.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission attributes more than 25,000 residential fires annually to space heaters. These fires result in more than 300 deaths, according to the organization. Additionally, roughly 6,000 people are sent to the emergency room each year for burn injuries from contacting hot surfaces on a space heater.
Ceiling fans (a surprising cause of freak accidents!)
Who knew something as unassuming as a ceiling fan could be so dangerous? Nearly 20,000 people are injured from ceiling fans falling due to improper mounting annually. In 2020, Lowes recalled thousands of ceiling fans for the risk of blades flying off and causing injury.
Mandolins are used to cut produce into thin slices. But unfortunately, they often result in the user slicing their fingers.
According to Cooking Light, they are no more dangerous than a chef knife. However, a mandolin requires concentration with deliberate motions to avoid injuring yourself. The article states that most mandolins come with lots of attachments and safety guards, which are usually intimidating and cumbersome.
Using at-home workout equipment can be dangerous, especially if you're alone and using heavy weights. Treadmills are also hazardous. According to a Men's Journal article, "30 cases of treadmill-associated deaths in the U.S. have been reported in the ten years between 2003 and 2012, averaging out to about three deaths per year."
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are as many as 23 fire-related injuries and deaths attributed to candles every day. The most common causes are leaving candles unattended or the presence of combustible material being too close to the candle flame.
To answer the question, "Can a Murphy bed kill you?" The factual answer is yes. But it's highly unlikely and no more dangerous than any other household appliance or product. Statistically speaking, the average treadmill is far more dangerous (and requires far more effort to use) than a Murphy bed.
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This post was first published in 2020. We updated it in 2022 just for you.