Toy-Related Deaths and Serious Injury

Just before Christmas 2013 the U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund released its annual exposé of dangerous toys, Trouble in Toyland. The consumer watchdog group identified 24 toys on the market which it deemed dangerous.

It is now February of 2014 and despite the efforts of the U.S. PIRG Education Fund many of these toxic toys have been sold and passed into the hands of our children. What legal options do parents have if their child has been injured by one of these toys?

In this post I will discuss legal options parents of injured children possess. I will start by highlighting some of the more dangerous toys identified in the Trouble in Toyland report.

Keep in mind that even if the toy that injured your child is not discussed here you still may have a viable legal claim. Hazards in toys and children’s products run the gamut from choking hazards created by toys with small parts, to strangulation hazards from cords on pull toys, to laceration hazards from edges that are too sharp, to toxic hazards posed by chemicals in toys. Injuries have been documented from all of these hazards.

The most common toy-related child injury is choking and the most common causes of choking are small toy parts, small balls, marbles, and balloons. Federal law bans small parts in toys for children under three and requires a warning label on toys with small parts for children between the ages of four and six.

Regulators use three factors to determine whether a toy is intended for children under three years old, including the manufacturer’s stated intent in the age labeling; the advertising and marketing of the product; and if the toy is “commonly recognized” as being intended for a child under three years old. Some items commonly recognized for children under three include squeeze toys; teether toys or articles that are affixed to a crib, stroller, playpen, or baby carriage; pull and push toys; bathtub, wading pool and sand toys; and stuffed animals.

So how do government regulators determine if a toy part is small enough to be banned (or to require a warning label for children 4-6)? Regulators use a choke test cylinder (sometimes it is called a “small parts cylinder”) and below you can see a schematic that shows the dimensions of the cylinder:

Choke Test Cynlinder

The choke test cylinder has an interior diameter of 1.25 inches and a slanted bottom with a depth ranging from 1 to 2.25 inches. This cylinder is designed to approximate the size of a fully expanded throat of a child under three years old. If a toy or part of a toy – including any parts that separate during “use and abuse” testing – fits inside the test tube, the product is a choking hazard and is banned for children under the age of three.

Here is a photo of a choke test cylinder in use testing a product:

Choke Test Cylinder

I said I would start by highlighting some of the more dangerous toys identified by the Trouble in Toyland report. Toys which were deemed dangerous and which may cause choking in children include:

  • Product name: Princess Wand
  • Label on toy: None
  • Type of hazard: Choking
  • Why toy is a problem: A small heart that fits inside the small parts cylinder detaches easily.
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: Greenbrier International
  • Store: Dollar Tree
  • Image:

Princess Wands

  • Product name: Bead Kit
  • Label on toy: 5+
  • Type of hazard: Choking
  • Why toy is a problem: No small parts warning, which is required for toys intended for children between 4 and 6 that contain small parts.
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: Greenbrier International
  • Store: Dollar Tree
  • Image:

Bead Kit

  • Product name: Littlest Pet Shop- #2744 Horse
  • Label on toy: 4+
  • Type of hazard: Choking
  • Why toy is a problem: Bottom half of pony easily detaches and fits within the small parts cylinder. There is no small parts warning, which is required for toys intended for children between 4 and 6 that contain small parts.
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: Hasbro
  • Store: Kmart
  • Image:

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As you can see below, the pony fails the choke cylinder test:

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  • Product name: Littlest Pet Shop – Candyswirl Dreams Collection #3313
  • Label on toy: 4+
  • Type of hazard: Choking
  • Why toy is a problem: The bottom of the toy animal easily detaches and both the head and bottom fit within the small parts cylinder. There is no small parts warning, which is required for toys intended for children between 4 and 6 that contain small parts.
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: Hasbro
  • Store: Wal-Mart
  • Image:

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  • Product name: Littlest Pet Shop – Sunil Nevla
  • Label on toy: 4+
  • Type of hazard: Choking
  • Why toy is a problem: The bottom of the toy animal easily detaches and fits within the small parts cylinder. There is no small parts warning, which is required for toys intended for children between 4 and 6 that contain small parts.
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: Hasbro
  • Store: Wal-Mart
  • Image:

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  • Product name: Littlest Pet Shop- Seal and Dolphins
  • Label on toy: 4+
  • Type of hazard: Choking
  • Why toy is a problem: The round head of the seal easily detaches and barely passes the small parts test but fails the small ball test*.
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: Hasbro
  • Store: Kmart
  • Image:

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*Note explaining my reference to the “small ball test” above. In 1994 the federal government established a test for small balls which is more restrictive than the 1.25 inches in diameter small parts test (for which they use the choke test cylinder discussed above). Balls with a diameter smaller than 1.75 inches are banned for children under three years old. Federal law defines a ball as “any spherical, ovoid, or ellipsoidal object designed or intended to be thrown, hit, kicked, rolled, dropped, or bounced.” In addition, the term “ball” includes any multisided object formed by connecting planes into a generally spherical ovoid, or ellipsoidal shape that is designated or intended to be used as a ball.

  • Product name: Gobble Gobble Guppies
  • Label on toy: 2+
  • Type of hazard: Choking
  • Why toy is a problem: The round fish are bigger than choke tube but smaller than small ball tester.
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: SwimWays
  • Store: Kmart
  • Image:

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  • Product name: Super Play Food Set
  • Label on toy: Statutory Small Parts Warning
  • Type of hazard: Some food objects are small parts—other rounded food objects are bigger than choke tube but smaller than small ball tester.
  • Why toy is a problem: Toy food poses a special hazard because it looks as if it should be eaten
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: Geoffrey LLC
  • Store: Toys-R-Us
  • Image:

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  • Product name: Fisher-Price Loving Family Outdoor Barbeque
  • Label on toy: 3+
  • Type of hazard: Choking
  • Why toy is a problem: The toy has circular near small part and also looks like something that should be eaten.
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: Mattel
  • Store: Kmart
  • Image:

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  • Product name: Punch Balloons
  • Label on toy: Statutory balloon warning; 5+
  • Type of hazard: Choking
  • Why toy is a problem: Balloons are dangerous for children under 8, but this toy is labled for 5+
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: Toy Investments, Inc.
  • Store: Toys R Us
  • Image:

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Toys which were deemed dangerous by the Trouble in Toyland report and which may cause gastroenterological injuries in children include:

  • Product name: Sonic Sound Sizzlers Noise Magnets
  • Label on toy: 8+
  • Type of hazard: Ingestion
  • Why toy is a problem:The toy contains two high powered magnets that are near small parts. If the toy was a small part, it would be banned for children <14.
  • Manufacturer/Distributor: JA-RU Inc
  • Store: Family Dollar
  • Image:

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Many magnet toys on the market today use powerful neodymium iron boron (NIB) magnets which have increased in popularity with toy manufacturers as they have become readily available from Chinese exporters. They are commonly used in magnetic sets and magnetic office toys and jewelry, especially earrings and bracelets. They are also appearing in dollar store toys.

If swallowed, one magnet may pass through the digestive system without incident. If two or more magnets are swallowed, however, they can attract each other in the body. If one magnet is in the stomach and another is in the small intestine, for example, they can cling together and quickly work their way through tissue, perforating the wall or creating a hole. Two or more magnets attracted to each other in the intestine can create a bowel obstruction or perforation. Using MRIs to diagnose the problem is very dangerous, since the magnetic fields used in imaging could tear the magnets through tissue if they are present.

Another dangerous product discussed in the Trouble in Toyland report is
Buckyballs or Buckycubes, made by Maxfield and Oberton. In my opinion, Buckyballs and magnet desk toys similar to Buckyballs sold by retailers are not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended and pose an unreasonable risk of injury to children.

Here is an image of one type of Buckyballs:

sidekick-edition-buckyballs-supraballs

The federal standard for high powered magnet toys for children bans them for children under 14 if they fit in the choke test cylinder. There is an exception for magnets included in certain “hobby, craft, and science kit-type items” intended for children 8 and up, provided the products comply with special magnet hazard disclosures.

There are a number of other dangerous toys discussed in the Trouble in Toyland report. Read it if I have not mentioned the toy that injured your child.

I’ve highlighted a few dangerous toys that can cause harm to children. Next I want to address what options a parent has if their child has been injured by one of these toys (or other toys that pose an unreasonable risk of harm).

Normally, a products liability claim is going to be the best option for parents.

In Georgia product liability is centered upon O.C.G.A. Section 51-1-11 which provides that the manufacturer of personal property sold as new is strictly liable to individuals who are injured by that property.

To establish a strict liability claim under this statute, a plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant was the manufacturer of the product, (2) the product was defective when it left the control of the manufacturer, and (3) the product’s defective condition proximately caused the injury to the plaintiff.

While O.C.G.A. Section 51-1-11 is the basis for most products liability claims, there are other legal options open to a parent whose child is injured by a dangerous toy. A plaintiff can rely on negligence, strict liability, and warranty theories.

The bottom line? If your child has been harmed by a toy and you believe there may be a basis for holding the manufacturer liable, please don’t hesitate to contact me. It costs you nothing and may benefit you a great deal.

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Attorney Pete Pearson practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and has a special interest in helping families with injured children. He is a father to six and lives with his wife and children near Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached directly at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564 or through his main site, www.petepearsonlaw.com.

Homeowner’s Insurance – What If My Child Is Hurt At Another Family’s Home?

If your child sustains an injury while at another family’s house and there is a homeowner’s insurance policy in effect, your child’s injury claim will almost certainly be covered. Don’t delay in reporting the injury, however, because all policies have a provision that says if timely notice is not given to the insurance company they can deny coverage.

After making sure the injury is reported to the insurance company (preferably in writing), take time to assess what type of insurance claim will be appropriate. There are two types.

The first type of claim under homeowner’s insurance. Many homeowner’s insurance policies contain “Med Pay” or “Medical Payments” coverage. “Med Pay” is no-fault coverage, which means it is available to help compensate you for medical expenses related to your child’s injury no matter how the injury took place. In other words, there is no requirement that you show that anyone was negligent. If you can show that your child was injured on the other family’s property, you can recover under the “Med Pay” coverage.

“Med Pay” is sold in increments and a family may have $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, $50,000, or more coverage in place. The way this type of coverage works is that you submit your child’s medical bills to the homeowner’s insurance company as you receive them. Some medical providers will even handle the submissions for you. Or, if you prefer, you can have the insurance company mail you (or your attorney) a check for the cost of your child’s medical treatment. I recommend the latter approach because it allows you (or your attorney) to negotiate with your medical providers. Often providers will offer a discount to settle your child’s bill if you ask. You can save money that way and use what you save to pay for your client’s future medical care or other injury related expenses.

The second type of claim under homeowner’s insurance. The second type of coverage is bodily injury liability coverage. This pays only when the owner or someone in the owner’s family is found to be at fault. You have to be able to (usually with the assistance of an attorney) prove that the owner or representative of the owner did something (or failed to do something) that constitutes negligence and that negligence led to your child’s injury.

Even if the homeowner has admitted fault, keep in mind that is is very common for stories to change after a little time goes by. Do your child a favor and document everything. If the homeowner admits fault, get that on a recording or in writing. Get them to admit the specifics of what they did wrong. This will protect you in the event they later change their story (and you would be amazed at how often stories change.)

A bodily injury liability claim allows you to recover more damages than in a “Med Pay” claim. “Med Pay” pays only for your child’s medical expenses. A liability claim pays you for medical expenses, any related lost wages, human losses (pain and suffering), and any damages that flow from your child’s injury.

One question that you may have is whether your child can be held responsible for causing their own injury? This issue arises if your child was doing something that perhaps was a little foolish at the time they were hurt. The answer is: it depends. It depends on the age of your child.

In the Georgia common law there is a legal creature known as the “tender years doctrine.” This doctrine holds that children under a certain age can not be charged with contributory negligence (fault) or assumption of the risk. The younger the child, the less likely they can be found to have contributed to their own harm.

For example, there is a case that holds that a 4 year old child is presumed incapable of negligence. But there is also a case that holds that a child that is 5 years, 10 months old does not get that same presumption. Exactly when a child becomes capable of contributory negligence is not clear in the case law. It seems safe to say that if a child is older than 6 years they might be charged with contributory negligence. But the issue is one for a jury to decide and is very fact specific.

So essentially, with very young children (4 and under) it is clear that they can’t be blamed for hurting themselves. With children older than 6, it is less clear. It will come down to what the courts have called a “subjective, individual standard of care for children.” In other words, the court or jury will have to examine the capacity of the child in question and their behavior and make a judgment call about whether they were capable of preventing the harm to themselves or if the adult in the situation should be charged with full or partial responsibility.

An example from a recent case I handled may help clarify how the doctrine of tender years works in practice.

My client, a 5 year old girl, was dropped off at the home of the Defendant. The Defendant had agreed to babysit my client.

The previous Sunday was Easter Sunday and my client’s mother had pressed out the child’s hair for the occasion. When the mother dropped her daughter off at the Defendant’s house, her hair was up in a ponytail. 

On the evening of the loss, the Defendant loosed the pony tail and let the girl’s hair out and shortly after gave her a lit candle to take into the house (the Defendant was outside talking to a friend on the phone). My client went inside the house unsupervised and while inside her hair caught on fire.

What happened next shocks the conscience. After this 5 year old child was burned, the Defendant told no one, called for no medical attention, and hid the fact from her own husband (by putting panty hose on the girl’s head to conceal the burns). The Defendant put the child to bed and kept her quiet during the night (while she fussed) by giving her Motrin.

All that night, the following morning, and throughout the next day, the Defendant again told no one and called for no medical attention. She did not inform the child’s mother. It was not until nearly 24 hours later, when the child’s mother returned, that her mother discovered the burns. Immediately she called 911 for an ambulance.

In that case, the insurance company didn’t even bring up the tender years doctrine. But, had my client been 7 or 8 or older, the insurance company might have.

One final piece of information. Because “Med Pay” claims are no-fault generally you do not need an attorney if that is the only type of claim you plan to bring. Generally the homeowner’s insurance company will pay the bills up to the limits of coverage without much of a fight. There are exceptions but generally you should be able to handle that without the expense of an attorney. If, however, you believe there was fault, it would be worth your while to consult with an attorney. Keep in mind that the attorney fee on a bodily injury liability claim is paid from the settlement, not from you or your child, and that if there is no recovery there is no attorney fee. So it is a risk free call to the attorney.

If your child has been injured by the negligence of another and you believe there may be grounds for a bodily injury liability claim, please call me. I have been representing families for over 17 years right here in Georgia and would be honored to talk with you. 

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Attorney Pete Pearson practices Child Injury and Wrongful Death Law in the State of Georgia. Located in the Greater Atlanta Metro Area, he is available to help families all over the State of Georgia. He can be contacted directly at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564 or by Email.

Trampoline Injury Claims for Children

Trampolines were designed to be a specialized piece of training equipment for adults.

In 1945, George Nissen, a competitive gymnast, patented the modern trampoline. Nissen designed the trampoline as a training tool for acrobats and gymnasts and later promoted it for military aviator training. The recreational use of trampolines is a more recent development, driven primarily by the increased availability of cheaper trampolines sold for home use.

Even more recently, commercial trampoline parks (“jump parks”) have begun to appear around the country, including in Georgia. These parks target children with their marketing. Consider the following commercial blurb from Sky Zone Sports, which has recently opened a location in Suwanee, Georgia:

“Get ready for Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park, the creator of the world’s first all-trampoline, walled playing court (U.S. Patent #5,624,122) – perfect for just about any age, shape or physical ability.” ~ from Sky Zone’s website (retrieved September 28, 2012).

How safe are trampolines truly? Are they truly “perfect for just about any age, shape or physical ability?” Not according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has repeatedly warned parents and anyone else who cares about child safety to keep kids off trampolines. According to an AAP report released this week, Emergency Departments across the country see nearly 100,000 injuries from trampolines each year. It’s not just at jump parks that kids get hurt; it’s at homes also.

The typical ways that children get hurt on trampolines include the following:

  • Too many children on the trampoline. Multiple users is a safety violation. If children are going to be allowed to use the trampoline at all, only one child should jump at a time. Of particular concern is when older children (or adults) are allowed on the trampoline along with younger children. Several studies have shown that approximately 3/4 of trampoline injuries occur when multiple people were using the trampoline. The smallest children were up to 14 times more likely to sustain injury relative to their heavier playmates. Also, heavier users create more rebound of the mat and springs and greater upward forces than smaller children can generate on their own. These forces must be absorbed by the falling body and can actually be greater than the forces a child would experience landing on solid ground!
  • Falls from the trampoline. This is an obvious one. What is not so intuitive is that the studies show that safety nets do not necessarily decrease the risk of children suffering falls.
  • Impact with the trampoline frame or springs. Again, surprisingly, the studies do NOT show that padding on the frames or springs necessarily decrease the risk of a child being injured.
  • Colliding with other children in mid air or on the way up or down.
  • Somersaults/flips. Neck and head injuries can easily result. Kill joy as it may sound, somersaults and flips are a bad idea for children on trampolines.

Typical injuries children sustain include:

  • Ankle injuries are the most common form of injury children sustain while jumping on a trampoline. This can range from a minor sprain up to a surgical fracture injury.
  • Head and neck injuries. These are the most serious child injuries typically seen resulting from trampoline accidents. Cervical spine injuries can be caused by falls off the trampoline but also commonly occur on the trampoline mat when failed somersaults or flips cause hyperflexion or hyperextension of the cervical spine. These injuries tend to be the most catastrophic of all trampoline injuries suffered.

Atypical (unusual) injuries children can sustain on trampolines include:

  • Trampoline-related fractures of the proximal tibia (upper part of the shin bone) have been observed in children 6 years and younger. These injuries occurred when young children were sharing the trampoline with larger individuals.
  • Manubriosternal Dislocations/Sternal Injuries (injuries involving the child’s breastbone). Sternal injuries have traditionally been described as a result of major trauma. These occur after thoracic hyperflexion injuries on the trampoline. They typically heal uneventfully; however, surgical stabilization may be necessary if pain persists.
  • Vertebral Artery Dissection (a flap like tear of the inner lining of vertebral artery, which is located in the neck and is the artery that supplies blood to the brain). The AAP report discussed above mentions several cases of vertebral artery dissection presenting 12 to 24 hours after a neck injury on a trampoline. Vertebral artery dissections are the result of abrupt cervical hyperextension and rotation. These are often devastating injuries and may produce lasting complications.
  • Atlanto-axial Subluxation (an injury where the vertebrae in the neck spine become misaligned as a result of trauma and may compress the spinal cord, leading to damage to the spinal cord and adjacent nerves. There have been 2 reported cases of trampoline-related atlanto-axial subluxation in children.

One important legal consideration with child trampoline injuries is that some homeowner’s insurance companies exclude trampoline injuries from coverage.

This is because trampolines are viewed as an “attractive nuisance” (something on a property that may entice children into harm) and therefore trampoline related claims are sometimes not covered by a standard insurance contract. Homeowners who own trampolines may have to obtain a “rider”  (a rider is a schedule or piece of paper attached to an insurance policy that provides the policyholder extra protection beyond the provisions contained in a standard insurance agreement) that expressly provides coverage for trampoline related claims.

Contacting an attorney to investigate the availability of liability insurance that could compensate you and your child for medical bills and other items of damages is advisable.

Another legal consideration if your child has been injured on a trampoline is the possibility of a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the trampoline. It has been observed that there has been a decrease in the quality of recreational trampoline equipment over the past several decades. Consider this: according to the International Trampoline Industry Association, trampolines sold in 1989 had an expected life of 10 years while the expected life of trampolines sold in 2004 was only 5 years. We are seeing a degradation in the quality of the trampolines available for the recreational market.

A legal claim against a homeowner, commercial trampoline park (“jump park”), or trampoline manufacturer may have to overcome the legal defense known as “assumption of the risk.” This defense essentially blames the victim for engaging in an activity that they knew or should have known was dangerous. The efficacy of this defense is close to nil, however, with younger children, due to another legal doctrine, known as the “tender years doctrine.” This doctrine holds that children under a certain age (probably 7) can not be charged with contributory negligence (fault) or assumption of the risk.

If your child has been hurt on a trampoline and you believe there was negligence, I would be happy to help you evaluate your claim.

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Attorney Pete Pearson practices personal injury law in Atlanta, Georgia and has a special interest in helping families of injured children. He is a father to six and lives with his wife and children in Conyers, Georgia. He can be reached directly at Six-Seven-Eight 358-2564. 

IKEA Recalls Children’s Tents Over Potential of Laceration & Puncture Child Injury

Swedish furniture store IKEA recently announced it has recalled a children’s folding tent it sold in August and September of 2011. The steel wire frame of the BUSA children’s folding tent is defective and can break, producing sharp wire ends that can protrude through the tent fabric and injure a child. The wire ends are a laceration and puncture hazard.

IKEA sold about 58,000 of the tents in the United States and Canada during the months of August and September. The brand names IKEA and BUSA and the model number (90192009) are printed on a label sewn into an interior seam in the tent.

According to IKEA, three incidents have occurred with this tent already, one involving an injury.

Here is what the tent looks like –

If you or your child have been injured by this defective toy, please call me to discuss your legal rights.

Dangerous Toys – Magnets That Can Be Swallowed by Children – Product Liability & Child Care Provider Liability

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is again warning parents and caregivers about the the danger of child injuries caused by magnets in toys.

When a child swallows one magnet the health consequences may be negligible, but swallowing two or more can be fatal. This PSA explains why –

Since 2008 a federal safety standard prohibits magnets and magnet components that are loose and of a size that could be swallowed to be in toys for children under 14 years of age.

There have been product liability lawsuits filed against the manufacturers of toys that sell products containing magnets that can fall out and end up swallowed by a child.

In 2008 Rose Art Industries settled a lawsuit over its “Magnetix” toy after magnets from it caused personal injuries to a 4-year-old boy. The child had swallowed magnets from the toy that lodged in his intestines. The magnets damaged the boys digestive system and he now suffers from persistent constipation, diarrhea and abdominal pain and must eat a special diet.

Also in 2008, MEGA Brands recalled 1.3 million MagnaMan Magnetic Toy Figures because the toys had small magnets that can come off and be swallowed by children.

The most recent warning from the Consumer Product Safety Commission alerts caregivers to the dangers posed by so-called “desktoys” – toys designed for adults to keep on a desk top. Two such toys are Nanospheres and Buckyballs. When caregivers ignore labels which warn to keep these toys away from children, tragedy can strike. Toddlers can pick them up from tables, sofas, and the floor and swallow them. Severe injuries can result.

Child care providers who fail to keep these types of toys away from children may be liable for any personal injuries that result. Day cares, schools, camps, and others should not allow these toys to be present on the premises. Child care providers have a legal duty to keep dangerous toys away from the children for whom they are responsible. School officials also have a duty to prevent tweens and teens from bringing toys containing magnets to school and sharing them with friends.

With tweens and teenagers, the danger may involve how the product is being used – some children have unintentionally inhaled and swallowed magnets when using them to mimic body piercings. These older children are placing two or more magnets on opposite sides of their ear lobes, tongue and nose – sometimes resulting in ingestion or inhalation of the magnets and injuries. School officials have a duty to be vigilant about preventing children from bringing such magnetic toys with them to school.

If your child has suffered injuries as a result of one of these toys and you feel the product manufacturer or a child care provider/school officials has been negligent, you should speak with an attorney about the possibility of bringing a legal claim.