Popular Toymaker Sued For Product Safety Violations
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
An independent government agency has ordered the halt of sales of the popular magnetic desktop toy Buckyballs, and has filed a lawsuit against the toy’s maker, claiming the small, magnetic balls are a serious hazard to small children.
Buckyballs are high-powered desktop magnetic balls marketed for adults, but they are small enough that they can be swallowed, potentially causing serious harm to small children. Even teenagers have accidentally swallowed the balls after using them to mimic the appearance of having tongue piercings.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) filed an administrative complaint against NY-based Maxfield and Oberton Holdings, the makers of Buckyballs, on Wednesday. And several retailers, including Amazon, have agreed to stop selling them, according to CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson.
The stop-sale order by the CPSC is the first such measure for the group in 11 years, said Wolfson. The last time a stop-sale order was made was in a 2001 case against BB guns.
In response to the lawsuit, Maxfield and Oberton issued a statement: “Thank you for trying to drive a $50 million New York-based consumer product company out of business.” The statement added that the product was the “No. 1 selling brand name in high-powered magnets,” quoting favorable reviews from The Washington Post and New York magazine.
The company also alleged that the CPSC alerted retailers to the agency’s lawsuit before even “giving the company a chance to defend itself and its products.”
Buckyballs founder Craig Zucker said the products the company sell are marketed for people 14 and older and carry clear warnings that they should be kept out of children’s reach. He said in the statement that the CPSC’s actions were “unfair, unjust and un-American.”
“Notwithstanding the labeling, warnings and efforts taken by (Maxfield and Oberton), ingestion incidents continued to rise because warnings are ineffective,” the CPSC said in the lawsuit.
Besides alerting retailers of the lawsuit, the commission also asked the company to stop selling the products, refund customers’ money and post a notice on its website that the product is defective and no longer available. In calling the product defective, CPSC charges that the packaging isn’t childproof, and is impossible for parents to tell if a magnet is missing from the set.
“We want parents to be aware of the danger associated with these innocent-looking magnets,” CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said in 2009. “The potential for serious injury and death if multiple magnets are swallowed demands that parents and medical professionals be aware of this hidden hazard and know how to treat a child in distress.”
Since hitting the market in 2009, there have been numerous cases of children swallowing the magnets and needing medical attention. One such incident occurred in January 2011, when a 4-year-old boy had his intestine perforated after swallowing three magnets he thought were chocolate candy, according to the complaint.
In another incident, Betty Lopez was confronted by her daughter Sabrina, who said a friend had brought Buckyballs to school and they were pretending to have tongue piercings. While she was twirling the magnets around her tongue she accidentally swallowed them.
“It’s extremely frightening,” Betty Lopez said in an AP interview. “She could have died.”
Sabrina was rushed to the hospital and an X-ray showed that she had actually ingested four magnets. She had emergency surgery and spent six days in the hospital recovering.
Since a safety alert went up in November, the CPSC said it has received more than a dozen reports of children ingesting the magnets, many requiring surgery.
The most astonishing case was that of a three-year-old who had undergone invasive surgery to remove 37 Buckyball magnets, just months after the warnings were issued. Luckily an X-ray caught that incident and doctors were able to remove the magnets and repair the girl’s damaged intestines.
More than 2 million Buckyballs and 200,000 Buckycubes have been sold in the US since the company first opened its doors. Being the sole product of the company, Zucker said: “We will vigorously fight this action taken by President Obama’s handpicked agency.”
“We worked with the commission in order to do an education video less than 9 months ago, so we are shocked they are taking this action,” Zucker added.
The Buckyballs site also contains two warnings at the top of its page on safety, which warns that its products are “not manufactured, promoted, labeled, or intended for children.” A warning box on the page also states: “the products should be kept away from all children, that swallowing the magnets can cause serious injury or death, and to seek immediate medical attention if the products are swallowed or inhaled.”
The company also has two press releases on the site, which detail the CPSC’s 2011 public warning of the dangers of the product and their 2009 cooperation with the CPSC to voluntarily recall the product because of its potential hazard to children.
If the administrative law judge rules in favor of the CPSC, then the commission could force Maxfield to stop the sale of its product. However, the company could appeal the ruling to the four commissioners and in federal court.
Typically, the CPSC negotiates product recalls with companies, and usually work out an agreement.