Back in 2011, Toys ‘R’ Us was hit with a $20.6 million verdict by a Massachusetts jury in a products liability case arising out of the death of 29-year old Robin Aleo. The woman was killed while sliding down a 6-foot inflatable pool slide manufactured in China by Manly Toys and sold in the U.S. by Toys ‘R’ Us. As the woman neared the bottom of the slide, it partially collapsed, causing her to strike her head on a concrete pool deck. After a nearly two week trial, the jury awarded Aleo’s estate $2.6 million in compensatory damages and $18 million in punitive damages. Toys ‘R’ Us appealed the jury award, and the Massachusetts Appeals Court heard oral arguments in the case last week.
Aside from the amount of the jury’s award, the more intriguing issue in this case is the role of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. At trial, the estate argued that the slide did not comply with federal safety standards for swimming pool slides, citing to standards set forth by the CPSC in 1976. Toys ‘R’ Us contends that the 1976 regulations do not apply to inflatable slides, but only to rigid pool slides. According to the toy retail chain, inflatable slides were not around in 1976 and, thus, were not contemplated by the standards.
Nonetheless, the slides apparently were imported and never certified that they met any standards. Regardless of whether Toys ‘R’ Us should be held responsible for this regulation snafu, it’s the CPSC’s response that draws our ire. The CPSC did not recall the slide until May 2012 – months after the verdict and years after the 2006 incident. The CPSC was also aware of at least two other cases of serious injury arising out of use of the slide. If the slide really is afoul of CPSC regulations and has allegedly caused several cases of serious injury and/or death, then why wait until a jury verdict to issue a recall? It is not like the CPSC has a firm rule to exercise due diligence in these things. Remember Bucky Balls?
We have been critical of the CPSC in the past over its draconian measures. Regardless, if the CPSC knows it is going to issue a recall, it might as well go ahead and do it – especially if the only fact that changed between the 2006 accident and the 2012 recall is a Massachusetts jury deciding the issue is worth $20 million.