A Salem Superior Court jury has ordered the retail store Toys “R” Us to pay $20.6 million to the family of an Andover, Massachusetts mother who sustained life-ending personal injuries after an in-ground pool slide sold by the retailer collapsed. The defective product was never properly tested before or after it was imported from China by the national chain and was sold to customers. The product that caused the fatal injuries was sold by Toys “R” Us via amazon.com. According to court records, more that 4,000 untested pool slides were sold by the national chain nationwide. The verdict was the largest ever awarded by an Essex County jury and one of the highest in Massachusetts this year. The verdict included $2.5 million for future lost wages, $100,000 for pain and suffering, and a staggering $18 million in punitive damages.
The deceased woman was just 29-years-old and the mother of a young daughter, when she sustained the fatal injuries during a pool party in Andover, Massachusetts. The victim climbed to the top of the 6-foot slide and slid down head first, when the defective product collapsed, sending the victim head-first into the edge of the pool. Sadly, she sustained a broken neck and was left paralyzed and unable to breathe. The woman died the next day at a Boston, Massachusetts hospital. The plaintiff’s attorney, Thomas Smith, told the Eagle Tribune that the woman’s husband “felt that there was a wrong done, and he is pleased that the jury recognized that. This product should not have been sold.” Smith later added that he hopes the large verdict, particularly the punitive damages, reminds retailers “to make sure, not just for toys but for all products, that they comply with our laws and that they are safe.” Unfortunately, the Massachusetts woman in this case was not the only victim of injuries caused by the defective slide. Earlier this year, a man was left paralyzed when the same pool slide, purchased from Walmart, collapsed. In that case, a lawsuit against Walmart and the product’s manufacturer is still pending.
Under federal and Massachusetts state laws, a product liability claim for injuries sustained from an unreasonably dangerous product can be founded on one of five negligence-based legal grounds. Claims can be advanced against manufacturers of defective products and sellers of defective products. First, if a product is unreasonably dangerous in its intended use, or during a reasonably foreseeable misuse, the manufacturer may be held liable for a defective product design. Second, if a product is made more dangerous due to a manufacturing flaw, a claim for a manufacturing defect can be advanced. Third, if a product cannot be made entirely safe (such as lawnmowers, snowblowers, electric heaters, etc.), the manufacturer must provide adequate warnings of the dangers associated with any foreseeable use. Failure to provide an adequate warning may result in liability for damages. Fourth, a manufacturer may be held liable for breach of warranty if a product does not conform to an express statement or if a product is not fit for the ordinary purposes for which such products are used, on an implied warranty basis. Lastly, a manufacturer may be held strictly liable if a defective and unreasonably dangerous product is sold.