A jury in Massachusetts has awarded the family of a 29-year-old woman nearly $21 million after she died from an injury sustained while using a Chinese inflatable pool slide nearly five years ago.
The panel found that Toys ‘R’ Us failed to test the Banzai Falls in-ground pool slide to determine whether it met federal safety standards, as required by law, before or after it was imported from China.
This was one of the largest product liability verdicts in Massachusetts this year.
At a relative’s pool party in January 2006, Robin Aleo, mother of an 18-month-old daughter, climbed to the top of the 6-foot-high Banzai Falls slide, then started sliding down headfirst. The slide suddenly gave way and Aleo struck her head on the pool’s deck, according to testimony, as the Eagle-Tribune newspaper reported.
Aleo’s neck was broken from the pool accident, leaving her paralyzed and unable to breathe. She died the following day at a local Boston hospital.
The Aleo family, originally from Long Island, New York but living in Colorado at the time of the accident, were visiting family in Andover, Massachusetts. The relatives had purchased the pool slide just one month prior from Toys ‘R’ Us through Amazon’s website, the Eagle-Tribune reported.
Testimony at trial revealed that Aleo’s daughter was present when she was pulled, unconscious, from the pool. Her husband, Michael Aleo, attempted to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and told jurors that as he looked at his wife, she mouthed the word “more.” But the injury left her unable to breathe on her own, and her condition deteriorated.
It was alleged that Robin Aleo was at least the second person that was left paralyzed from an injury caused from the Banzai Falls slide. More than 4,000 of these slides have been sold nationwide, according to court records.
The slide was tested for other product safety rules, and failed twice; once for containing lead in excess of federal limits, but not for compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Commission pool slide regulation, testimony showed.
A jury found Toys ‘R’ Us had negligently certified the product for importation despite federal regulations requiring that a slide be able to support a person weighing 350 pounds. The slide, which Toys ‘R’ Us said was under-inflated, was labeled as being able to support 200 pounds, collapsed while Ms. Aleo, a 140-pound woman, was using it.
After the trial began, two other defendants named in the suit, Amazon.com, which was in a partnership with Toys ‘R’ Us to sell items online, and the manufacturer SLB Toys USA, both settled for undisclosed sums, the newspaper reported.
In its ruling, the appeals court said that Toys ‘R’ Us demonstrated a “substantial degree of reprehensibility” by importing and selling close to 4,000 inflatable poolside slides from China that failed to meet federal consumer safety laws. This was true even though the products contained warning labels and user instructions indicating the products were non-compliant.
Noting that punitive awards of up to ten times the compensatory portion are generally permissible, the appeals court found that the verdict was in line with Massachusetts’ interest in punishing dangerous corporate conduct.
There are so many toy products being imported into the U.S. from China and other countries. Many of these products do not meet federal consumer product safety regulations and are putting children at risk.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured from a consumer product, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).