2007 is on its way to becoming the year when more toys were recalled than any other year in the history of the toy industry. As of August 15, 2007, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) had recalled 40 toys, which extrapolates to 56 recalls by the end of the year. Much attention has been paid to the problem of toys colored with lead paint. Mattel, the world’s largest toy company, announced three major recalls, involving some 20 million items. The company said a number of toy cars and Barbie-related accessories had been colored with lead paint. But a new study by two Canadian professors concludes that design flaws, not Chinese manufacturing problems, are the cause of the vast majority of American toy recalls over the last two decades.
The study, relying on data from the CPSC, showed that 76.4 percent of the recalls going back to 1988 involved design flaws while 10 percent were caused by manufacturing flaws. Examples of design problems include sharp edges of a toy which pose a laceration hazard, small detachable parts such as balls and beads, which pose a swallowing and choking hazard, open tubes and spaces, which can entrap children’s body parts, long strings that pose strangulation hazards, and sewn buttons and glued eyes on stuffed toys.
Manufacturing problems can include excessive levels of lead paint, which if ingested by children could be toxic, using poor material such as toy stuffing that contains bits of wire or broken sewing needles, poorly fitted parts that break, batteries that overheat, and faulty electrical circuits.
A major problem identified by the CPSC is the presence of magnets in children’s toys. The CPSC has been seriously examining this problem since 2006. Mattel admits that most of the recalled items-17.4 million-had nothing to do with lead paint. (2.2 million toys were recalled due to lead paint.) Instead, they were manufactured with a new generation of high-powered magnets that were easily removable by children, and if swallowed by children could cause serious injury, such as intestinal perforations or blockage, or death.
A major recall of Rose Art Industries’ Magnetix building sets was made in March, 2006, following the death of a child due to ingestion of small magnets. Many other toy recalls have also been design-related.
In February, Hasbro recalled nearly 1 million Easy-Bake Ovens when it was discovered that children could easily get caught in them and burned. Just last week, on September 21, 2007, the CPSC announced the recall of 1 million cribs made by Simplicity of Reading, Pennsylvania. If assembled improperly, one side of the crib can detach and suffocate children. The cribs have been linked to three deaths and seven “infant entrapments,” according to Simplicity’s Web site.
Other recent findings of lead-contaminated children’s products have been made by major American retailers, including Target, Limited Too and Dollar General, involving products such as David Kirk Happy Giddy Children’s Garden Trowel, Sunny Patch Safari Children’s Chair, metal key chains, and a decorative flower-shaped object included in the wrapping of a shower gel and body lotion set.
The authors of the Canadian professors consider the prominence of design vs. manufacturing defects to be significant because design problems result in an unsafe toy irrespective of where it was manufactured, meaning that only toy companies can prevent problems associated with designs. They contend that toy companies can prevent most defects with efficient quality control and inspection mechanisms. They specifically point out that the issue of magnets did not arise overnight, but has been brewing for over a year.
Toy companies are urged to pay better attention to early warnings of danger. These recent recalls and disclosures have persuaded the Toy Industry Association – whose members are responsible for 85 percent of the toys sold in the United States – to call this month for a federal mandate that all toys be tested for lead and other hazards before they are sold.
Perhaps overly skeptically, one wonders whether the toy industry is merely posturing for public relations, or more sinisterly hoping that Congress will enact lenient standards for testing that will be declared to preempt any more stringent state or local laws, or more demanding industry standards, and in effect create a legal shield to limit their liability for any personal injuries or death that occur.
The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims including those involving dangerous and defective products . For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. If you or someone close to you has been injured by a product that was not properly manufactured, designed or labeled, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas.