On a warm summer day in July 2006, Robin Aleo climbed to the top of a 6-foot inflatable pool slide and slid down head first. As she neared the bottom, the slide partially collapsed and Robin hit her head on the concrete pool deck, causing fatal injuries.
Mrs. Aleo, 29, was visiting relatives in Andover when she went down the “Banzai” pool slide. Her husband, Michael, and 15-month-old daughter were watching as her head hit the pool deck. She suffered a broken neck and died the next day at a Boston hospital. Five years later, in 2011, a state court jury awarded Mrs. Aleo’s estate $20.6 million, including $2.5 million in anticipated lost income from her career in advertising and marketing, $100,000 for pain and suffering before her death and $18 million in punitive damages. The jury found that the slide sold by Toys R Us did not comply with federal safety standards for swimming pool slides. Toys R Us contends that the $18 million in punitive damages was “grossly excessive.”
Toys R Us has now appealed the verdict to the highest court in Massachusetts, asking that the award be overturned. The national chain contends that the 1976 Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulation cited by the Aleo family does not apply to inflatable in-ground pool slides, but only to rigid pool slides. Toys R Us also claims that the trial judge allowed lawyers for the family to inflame the jury by accusing Toys R Us of importing an “illegal” product. The company says that the slide met all safety regulations.
Pool slides have been subject to a federal safety standard since 1976. This standard applies to all pool slides, no matter what they are made of. But Toys R Us claims the standard was only meant to apply to rigid slides, not the flexible, inflatable slides that have become very popular in recent years. The regulation should apply to all swimming pool slides regardless of the materials of manufacture or structural characteristics. There is no exception in the standard that would apply to this case.
The slide had an instruction manual and small warning label near the climbing footholds that said the weight limit was 200 pounds, but the safety standard required that slides should be able to support up to 350 pounds. Mrs. Aleo weighed 148 pounds. The slide had been purchased by the homeowners from Toys R Us through Amazon.com. Toys R Us had imported the slides from China, where they were manufactured. Apparently, the slide was never tested and it carried no required certification that it had been tested. Under the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission standards and the Consumer Product Safety Act, if a product that comes into the country without a certification that it’s been tested to its applicable standards, the sale of that kind of product is unlawful.
The CPSC announced in May 2012 that Toys R Us and Wal-Mart stores were recalling the slides, citing Mrs. Aleo’s death and injuries suffered by two other people, including a 24-year-old man who became a quadriplegic and a woman who fractured her neck. The Aleo case has drawn the attention of the Toy Industry Association Inc., a trade group whose nearly 600 members account for about 85 percent of the annual U.S. domestic toy market. The group filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Toys R Us in its position that the consumer safety regulation does not apply to inflatable pool slides. Boston lawyer Benjamin Zimmermann represents Michael Aleo in this important case. He has done a very good job and we wish him well on the appeal.
Source: Claims Journal
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