September 14, 2013

Court upholds $20.6 million jury award in pool-slide death

The Associated Press

BOSTON –The highest court in Massachusetts upheld a $20.6 million jury award on Friday for the family of a woman who died after hitting her head on a concrete pool deck when an inflatable slide partially collapsed.

A jury awarded Robin Aleo's family a total of $20.6 million — $18 million in punitive damages and $2.6 million in compensatory damages —in 2011, finding that the slide sold by Toys R Us did not comply with federal safety standards.

Toys R Us appealed, arguing that the 1976 Consumer Product Safety Commission regulation cited by Aleo's family does not apply to inflatable in-ground pool slides, but only to rigid pool slides. The company also said the trial judge allowed lawyers for Aleo's family to inflame the jury by accusing Toys R Us of importing an "illegal" product when it had relied on a certification that the slide met all safety regulations.

Aleo, 29, of Louisville, Colo., was visiting relatives in Andover in July 2006 when she climbed to the top of the Banzai 6-foot slide and slid down head first. Her husband, Michael, and 15-month-old daughter were watching as her head hit the pool deck. She suffered a broken neck and died the next day at a Boston hospital.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that there was enough evidence to support the jury's findings and said the $18 million in punitive damages did not exceed constitutional limits.

A spokeswoman for Toys R Us declined to comment on the ruling.

"We're pleased that the court affirmed what the jury found and recognized ... the appropriateness of the award in light of the loss suffered by the Aleo family," said Benjamin Zimmermann, a lawyer for the Aleo family.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced in 2012 that Toys R Us and Wal-Mart stores were recalling the slides, citing Aleo's death and injuries received by two other people, including a woman from Allentown, Pa., who fractured her neck and a man from Springfield, Mo., who became a quadriplegic.


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