Wrongful death lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that the Massachusetts Supreme Court recently upheld a $20.6 million verdict against popular retailer Toys R Us. The case centered on an inflatable poolside slide which plaintiffs blame for the death of a 28-year-old woman.
The Chinese-made pool product did not meet federal standards, according to the plaintiff, leading the jury to decide that Toys R Us acted with a substantial degree of unacceptable conduct by importing and selling the product. The retailer sold about 4,000 inflatable pool sides from China despite the manufacturers’ clear warning labels stating they did not meet federal consumer safety standards.
The maximum fee in civil penalties for violating United States import laws is $1.25 million; now, the company will pay $20.6 million for causing the young woman’s death. The lawsuit was filed by the woman’s husband and daughter after she suffered severe neck and spinal injuries from the pool slide, the ToyQuest Banzai Falls In-Ground inflatable slide. She was going down the slide head-first into a below-ground pool when it collapsed, slamming her head into the pool’s edge. She was rendered paralyzed and airlifted to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she was ultimately taken off life support.
In October 2011 the jury found that Toys R Us was negligent in certifying the product for importation, despite its warning labels stating it could support only 200 pounds. U.S. safety laws require such inflatable slides to be able to support at least 350 pounds. The woman, however, weighed only 140 pounds.
Toys R Us attempted to argue that the slide collapsed because it was not used properly, bringing in experts to testify on the correct usage of the product and collecting the woman’s medical records to prove her misuse. The court excluded this evidence and the jury decided that the company breached implied warranty of merchantability, a decision the state Supreme Court upheld. The implied warranty of merchantability is an unspoken guarantee that products bought and sold adhere to ordinary standards and quality. In certain cases buyers can file lawsuits against retailers for breaching this implied warranty for selling products unfit for their intended purpose.
Strengthening their case, the plaintiffs submitted evidence that the import compliance department of Toys R Us was substantially understaffed and believed it would not be financially liable for any defects, making the company indifferent to product safety. Evidence showed that a staff of about four or five employees was expected to evaluate the safety of approximately 60,000 products per year. That is 41 products per day, per employee, if they work every single day of the year.
The verdict was the largest personal injury award of 2011 in Massachusetts.
The judge told Toys R Us that its failure to perform necessary tests on
the products was inexcusable and reprehensible. Retailers such as ToyQuest
and Amazon also sold the Banzai inflatable slide, however, these two retailers
settled plaintiffs’ claims before the jury verdict.
At least two other people in the U.S. have been permanently disabled from the ToyQuest Banzai Falls In-Ground Pool Slide, prompting the recall of more than 20,000 products. The inflatable slides can buckle under the weight of an average adult and can topple in windy conditions. Neither the product’s manufacturer nor Toys R Us warned consumers about these possible risks. The slides are blue with a yellow sliding mat and an arch over the top. “Banzai Splash” is printed in blue, white and orange on each side of the slide along with a wave-shaped logo.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission can be reached at 1.800.638.2772. The slides were sold at Walmart as well as Toys R Us and Amazon for about $250 between January 2005 and June 2009. Pool accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm encourage anyone seriously injured by one of these slides to contact one of our skilled personal injury attorneys as soon as possible for a free legal consultation.