A Massachusetts jury awarded $20.6 million to a man who sued Toys "R" Us over fatal injuries suffered by his wife on a swimming pool slide. The Salem Superior Court jury returned the award last week to the widower of a Colorado woman who broke her neck when the pool slide collapsed. The accident occurred in 2006 when the woman, age 29, and her family were visiting relatives in Andover, MA. The family had purchased the pool slide the prior month from Toys "R" Us via Amazon’s website.
The husband and daughter sued for wrongful death, arguing that the company’s Toyquest Banzai slide did not meet government safety standards for pool slides. The end of the slide "bottomed out" causing the victim to hit her head on the end of the pool. Her neck was broken, and she was left paralyzed and unable to breathe. She died the following day at a Boston hospital.
During a pool party at the Andover home, she climbed to the top of the 6-foot-high Banzai Falls slide, then started sliding down head-first. Near the bottom, the slide suddenly bottomed out and she struck her head on the edge of the pool, according to testimony.
Sadly, the Colorado woman was at least the second person allegedly left paralyzed by such an incident on the Banzai Falls slide, of which more than 4,000 were sold nationwide, according to court records. A camp counselor in Missouri was left a quadriplegic when the same thing allegedly happened to him on a Banzai Falls slide purchased at a Walmart, according to court documents. His suit against both Walmart and the Chinese manufacturers is still pending.
Jurors were not told about the Missouri case but did learn that the company that Toys "R" Us uses in China to safety-test products before they are imported, Bureau Veritas, was never asked to test the pool slide for compliance with federal safety regulations.
The product was tested for other product safety rules — and twice failed, once for containing lead in excess of federal limits — but not for compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Commission pool slide regulation, a former Toys "R" Us executive acknowledged during testimony last week.
Lawyers for Toys "R" Us contended that the regulations did not apply to the Banzai slide because it was inflatable, and that they were not responsible for safety testing for compliance with regulations.
While there is a small print warning not to use the slide head-first, federal safety standards required that the slide be tested for such a typical use. Under those standards, all pool slides are also required to support a load of 350 pounds without "deformation" or giving way. The Banzai slide deforms under almost any weight at all, and the shifting of weight as a user slides down displaces the air at the bottom, making it unable to support any load, a plaintiff’s expert witness concluded.
The jury’s $20.6 million verdict, returned Thursday afternoon after a weeklong trial and less than an hour of deliberation, is believed to be the largest ever awarded by an Essex County jury and one of the highest in the state this year. The jury’s verdict included $2.5 million in anticipated lost income from the mother’s successful advertising and marketing career and other actual damages, $100,000 in compensation for pain and suffering before her death, and $18 million in punitive damages. The case is a oerfect example of why punitive damages are the only weapon available to make a large corporation take note of safety defects.