EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

May 6, 2013

Toys R Us will appeal$20M award in slide death

ANDOVER (AP) — On a warm summer day in July 2006, Robin Aleo climbed to the top of a 6-foot inflatable pool slide and slid down head first. As she neared the bottom, the slide partially collapsed and Aleo slammed her head on the concrete pool deck, causing fatal injuries.

Five years later, a jury awarded Aleo’s family more than $20 million, finding that the slide sold by Toys R Us did not comply with federal safety standards for swimming pool slides.

Toys R Us will go before the highest court in Massachusetts today to ask that the award be overturned.

The national chain argues 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. Toys R Us also says 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 when she went down a “Banzai” pool slide. 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.

A jury in Salem Superior Court awarded Aleo’s estate $20.6 million in 2011, including $2.5 million in anticipated lost income from Aleo’s career in advertising and marketing, $100,000 for pain and suffering before her death and $18 million in punitive damages. Toys R Us argues that the $18 million in punitive damages was “grossly excessive.”

Lawyers for Aleo’s husband say pool slides have been subject to a federal safety standard since 1976. The standard applies to all pool slides, no matter what they are made of, said Benjamin Zimmermann, a Boston attorney who represents Michael Aleo.

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