Parents, Strong CPSC and Civil Justice System Needed to Protect Children from Dangerous Toys

12/01/2010 12:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Penny Sweet bought a Magnetix set for her son's 10th birthday. The toy was made of building blocks and rods that connect together though small magnets. Some of the pieces broke, exposing the small magnets. It didn't take long for Penny's 22-month-old son Kenny to find and swallow the tiny magnets.

Hours later Kenny was rushed to an emergency room. X-rays revealed nine tiny magnets had attached together in Kenny's intestines, cutting the blood supply off to parts of his bowels. Gangrene set in and Kenny died later that night. A toy intended for play had become deadly.

Following Kenny's death, the family filed a complaint with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The manufacturer, Mega Bloks, claimed they had no knowledge of similar occurrences involving their toy. Several months later, four-year-old Kyle Booke suffered a massive infection after swallowing several Magnetix magnets. The magnets torn open Kyle's intestines, spilling bacteria into his stomach. Kyle spent weeks in the hospital recovering, just four months after Kenny Sweet's death. By the time the CPSC had announced the recall, 34 children had been injured by Magnetix.

The manufacturer claimed to strengthen the toy, and Magnetix sets were soon back on store shelves. The following year, three-year-old Tegan Leisy needed eight inches of his intestines removed after swallowing magnets from a Magnetix set bought after the recall. A few months later the CPSC expanded the recall, but by Christmas another version of the toy was back on store shelves.

Despite recent improvements in product safety rules, toys like Magnetix still contain unsuspecting dangers, like magnets, lead, and other toxins, according to a new report titled, "Playing with Safety: Dangerous Toys and the Role of America's Civil Justice System," released by the American Association for Justice.

While Kenny, Kyle and Tegan's injuries are rare, the manufacturer knowingly made and profited from an unsafe product. Parents and federal regulators can only do so much to protect children from dangerous toys; it is the manufacturer that must be held accountable. In "Playing with Safety," we see the role the civil justice system can play to encourage manufacturers to produce safe products and recall dangerous toys when hazards become evident.

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