According to news sources, the family of a woman who died after using an inflatable, in-ground pool slide that partially collapsed before she reached the pool has been awarded more than $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages following a jury trial in Massachusetts. Aleo v. SLB Toys USA Inc., No. 2008-20149-A (Essex Super. Ct., Mass., verdict rendered October 13, 2011). The award was rendered against one defendant, the company that sold the Banzai Falls® slide, which was imported from China and apparently never underwent tests to determine whether it complied with federal safety standards. Two other companies, including the product’s manufacturer, reportedly agreed to settle the claims before the case went to the jury. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants negligently designed and manufactured the product and failed to provide adequate instructions and warnings.
The retailer’s lawyers reportedly argued that federal regulations did not apply to the slide because it was inflatable and that the company was not responsible for safety testing. They also purportedly challenged how the accident occurred. Witnesses said the 29-year-old mother of a toddler climbed to the top of the slide and then started sliding down head-first. Near the bottom, the slide allegedly bottomed out, and the woman struck her head on the edge of the pool. Unable to breathe from the paralysis caused by a broken neck, she died the following day when life support was removed. Court watchers indicated that the verdict could be the largest ever awarded by an Essex County jury. See Eagle-Tribune, October 14, 2011; Law 360, October 17, 2011.