Toy Safety At Christmas Time And Throughout The Year

This is the next of a series of columns on how the law can impact your life. Each month we will focus on various aspects of the law relating to personal injuries, those that happen both on-the-job and otherwise, including mishaps which occur in driving vehicles, using products and receiving medical care. The column will also respond to legal questions relating to personal injury that are sent to us.

Healy Scanlon Law Firm is comprised of eight trial attorneys, two of whom are from Ireland. We are located downtown at 111 West Washington Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, Illinois 60602 (800-787-5431 or 312-324-0409). www.HealyLawFirm.com. The firm concentrates in the representation of injured victims of all types of accidents.

Readers are encouraged to call or write with questions concerning personal injury law.

TOY SAFETY AT CHRISTMAS TIME AND THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

Several times in the past we have written about toy safety. With Christmas approaching, it is once again a good time to look at dangerous toys and other child-safety issues. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the organization that regulates the safety of most consumer products, including most toys, over 250,000 children were treated in emergency rooms for toy-related injuries in 2009 alone.

Many toys have been found to contain high levels of lead paint and other toxic chemicals. Others pose choking or strangulation hazards. Some toys, often those manufactured overseas, fail to comply with U.S. safety regulations or are not tested at all. This article will focus on these topics and examine other recently recalled children's products.

LEAD PAINT AND CHEMICALS

One major issue with children's toys continues to be lead paint. Many of us may take for granted that the paints and dyes used in the toys we buy for our children are safe. But, poisonous lead paint can still be found in toys across the country. In 2010, the CPSC recalled more than half a million toys and children's products for violations of the federal lead paint standard.

In one recent example, a Los Angeles manufacturer, GA Gertmenian and Sons, LLC, recalled a Toy Story 3 Bowling Game because the red paint used on the toy bowling pins exceeded the maximum allowable lead paint level. Similarly, a Miami company, LM Import & Export has recalled "Gallop X" toy racing car sets, found to contain "excessive levels of lead," according to the CPSC.

The CPSC has also issued lead paint related recalls affecting 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engine toys and parts, nearly 1 million Sesame Street, Dora The Explorer, and other childrens' toys, and 250,000 SpongeBob SquarePants toys.

Exposure to lead paint can affect almost every system in the human body and is particularly toxic to the developing brains of young children. Exposure to even low doses of lead can cause IQ deficits, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and deficits in vocabulary, fine motor skills, reaction time and hand-eye coordination. A child exposed to a single high dose of lead can suffer permanent neurological and behavioral damage, blood poisoning or encephalopathy.

Children are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults, because young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. Moreover, their nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

STRANGULATION AND CHOKING HAZARDS

In addition, each year we see products being recalled due to strangulation and choking hazards. Just this month, Build-A-Bear recalled a teddy bear swimwear set that included an inner tube accessory because the inner tube could be pulled over a small child's head and pose a strangulation hazard.

In September, Little Tikes expanded a recall of its Workshop and Tool Set containing oversized blue and red plastic nails. The CPSC received reports of children choking on the plastic nails or the nails becoming lodged in their throats. Over 1.7 million units are now affected by the recall. Choking continues to be the leading cause of death related to toys. Between 1990 and 2009, at least 198 children died as a result of choking on a toy or toy part. In 2010, 5.8 million toys and children's products were recalled in the US and Canada due to choking hazards.

COMPLAINTS INVOLVING BANZAI FALLS

Recently, a Massachusetts jury awarded a large verdict in a case against Toys R Us. A 29 year-old married mother of an 18 month old daughter was playing on a Banzai Falls inflatable slide made for use with an in-ground pool. She slid down the slide head-first, but the slide collapsed and she struck her head on the edge of the pool. She was paralyzed and died the following day.

In Missouri, a camp counselor had a similar accident and was left quadriplegic as a result. His lawsuit against Banzai Falls and retailer, Wal-Mart, is still pending.

The Banzai Falls inflatable slide is an example of why it is important to use care when purchasing toys made overseas. Often, foreign toys do not comply with American safety standards. In the case of the Banzai slide, the product was never tested for compliance with CPSC pool slide regulations, which require pool slides to support up to 350 pounds.

OTHER RECENT TOY RECALLS

In August, the CPSC, in conjunction with Radio Flyer of Chicago, issued a recall for the Radio Flyer Scoot 'n Zoom children's riding toy, after Radio Flyer received reports of the toy tipping and children falling forward while riding. Radio Flyer advised consumers to immediately take the recalled scooters away from children.

In June, Target expanded a recall of booster seats made by Circo because a fault in the restraint buckle was causing the buckle to open unexpectedly, leading to children falling out of the seat. The recall now affects over 400,000 units.

A Colorado company, Phil&Teds USA Inc., has recently recalled a chair designed for small children and intended to clip onto a table. A problem with the clamps used to hold the chair to the table led to the chairs detaching from the table and falling to the ground. Other reports indicated children's fingers were lacerated, crushed, or amputated after being caught between the clamping mechanism.

RECENT CHANGES ENSURE STRONGER FEDERAL CRIB REGULATIONS

Recent legislation has resulted in stronger regulations for safety of cribs. Drop side cribs are now banned from being manufactured. Federal regulators recommend that those who currently own a drop side crib destroy it and buy a new crib. The new regulations also require stronger materials be used so slats on the crib are more resistant to breaking. Mattresses will now be subjected to tests involving 45-pound weights being repeatedly dropped on them. To know whether the crib you are buying meets the new standards, you should ensure it has a certificate verifying compliance with the stricter regulations.

When buying other toys for kids this Christmas season, the CPSC recommends you read labels thoroughly before purchasing the toy. Look for labels that provide age recommendations and safety instructions. Pay particular attention to instructions and warnings on battery chargers. Some chargers do not include devices to prevent over-charging and can cause electrical shocks. In addition, select toys that are appropriate for the age, ability, and interest level of the child who will receive the gift. For young children, avoid toys with sharp edges and points.

PRODUCTS LIABILITY LAWSUITS

At Healy Scanlon Law Firm, we have represented clients seriously injured by dangerous consumer products. Product liability lawsuits encourage corporations to act in a responsible manner. As just these short summaries show, many children's toys are released into the market without appropriate safety evaluations and testing. If the important safeguards of products liability law were not in place, some corporations might make decisions focused solely on financial return rather than a strong concern for safety.

BY: JMartin Healy, Jr.
Patrick C. Anderson