SALEM — A Salem Superior Court jury has ordered Toys "R" Us to pay more than $20 million to the family of a young mother who died five years ago after an inflatable pool slide sold by the national chain partially collapsed while she was using it during a pool party in Andover.
The Banzai Falls in-ground pool slide was never tested to determine whether it met federal safety standards for pool slides before or after it was imported from China by the retailer, a violation of federal law.
The jury's $20.6 million verdict, returned Thursday afternoon after a weeklong trial and less than an hour of deliberation, is believed to be the largest ever awarded by an Essex County jury and one of the highest in the state this year.
"He'd rather have his wife and his daughter's mother back," lawyer Thomas Smith, of Boston's Sugarman law firm, said yesterday of client Michael Aleo's reaction to the verdict. "He felt that there was a wrong done, and he is pleased that the jury recognized that. This product should not have been sold."
Robin Aleo was 29, married and the mother of an 18-month-old daughter. During a pool party at the Andover home of relatives on July 29, 2006, she climbed to the top of the 6-foot-high Banzai Falls slide, then started sliding down head-first.
Near the bottom, the slide suddenly bottomed out and Aleo struck her head on the edge of the pool, according to testimony. Her neck was broken, and she was left paralyzed and unable to breathe. She died the following day at a Boston hospital.
The Aleos, originally from Long Island, N.Y., were living in Colorado at the time and were in Andover to visit Michael Aleo's aunt and uncle, Sarah and William Letsky. They had purchased the pool slide the prior month from Toys "R" Us via Amazon's website.