Our top Chicago injury attorneys have previously written about the dangers of defective toys, particularly those imported from foreign countries. As the new year dawns on houses full of new toys, several new reports confirm our long-held beliefs regarding toy safety.
Over the last ten years injuries caused by toys have increased by an astounding 54 percent. Not coincidentally, the increase in toy-related injuries and deaths tracks perfectly with the increase in the number of toys imported from foreign countries into the U.S. market. And the problem has now gone beyond the manageable: as a nation, we now import fully 95 percent of the toys sold here. Lest you think that our concern is protectionist or unreasonable, bear in mind that by far the vast majority of toys subject to a U.S. recall last year were imported.
And how can we expect our government to combat this problem? The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, charged with protecting us from dangerous, defective products, has grossly inadequate funding and staffing to counter the problem. Until 2007, the agency had only 15 employees responsible for monitoring all U.S. ports – a level of staffing that is practically a joke. The CPSC also has only a single employee to conduct tests on the 30,000 tons of toys imported annually. As for funding, to get a sense of the problem, consider this: the CPSC’s entire annual budget is roughly five percent of the amount spent by Walmart on marketing each year.
It is small wonder, then, that parents have no confidence in the CPSC’s ability to protect their children. As a new report by the American Association for Justice notes, parents must instead rely on consumer groups and the civil justice system to police toymakers and sellers. The problem with this strategy, of course, is that while the CPSC is authorized to take action to prevent injuries and deaths, these other alternatives only come into play after a child has been injured or killed.
While our Chicago product liability attorneys are disappointed at the ineffectiveness of the CPSC, we remain hopeful that the civil justice system will eventually have a proactive, preventative effect. If enough parents have the courage and strength to take legal action when their children are injured or killed, toymakers and sellers will eventually be “scared straight.” If simple morality cannot force these companies to act responsibility, perhaps a real threat of liability can.
In the meantime, the AAJ report provides a helpful outline of some of the most prevalent toy dangers. While most parents are familiar with the classic toy hazards, such as small parts that may prove a chocking risk for younger children, today’s dangers go far beyond these classic concerns. As the AAJ report states, “Now, the danger comes from lead, cadmium, asbestos, and other carcinogens undetectable to the eye, or small, innocent-looking magnets that can rip a child apart from the inside.”
Our product liability lawyers have previously written about the dangers of magnetic toys. In addition, parents should be particularly cautious when purchasing, or allowing children to use, scooters. These devices alone account for one-quarter of all toy-related emergency room visits. While some of this is due to negligent use and automobile accidents, defective and dangerous scooters also play a part, causing everything from severe lacerations to amputations.
Likewise, lead contamination remains a serious issue, especially in imported toys. Children’s jewelry, in particular, is often contaminated. In fact, although nearly 18 million items of children’s jewelry have been recalled in the last five years, the AAJ reports that twenty percent of these items still contain unsafe levels of lead. And various other studies have found as many as one-third of tested toys to contain unsafe lead levels.
And in the shadow of lead, a new hazard has emerged: cadmium contamination. The AAJ reports that the number of imported toys, particularly from China, containing unsafe levels of this known carcinogen is increasing exponentially, as manufacturers simply replace toxic lead with toxic cadmium. These are just two of the many toxic substances that have been recently found in hugely popular toys, from lethal asbestos in children’s “CSI” kits to Rohypnol (the “date rape drug”) in hugely popular children’s beading sets Aquadots.
This is simply unacceptable. Our Chicago products liability lawyers join with the AAJ in urging Congress to properly fund the CPSC, so that it can fulfill its mandate to protect American consumers, particularly our children. Until then, we hope that courageous parents will continue to come forward and take action when their children are injured.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.