Judge Denies Post Trial Motion/Verdict Reduction in $20 Million Toys R Us Negligence Case
BOSTON, Feb. 16, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- A state superior court judge yesterday denied Toys R Us' motion for a new trial and verdict reduction in a $20 million judgment awarded last October, to a Colorado man and his daughter who claimed the retailer sold a defective inflatable pool slide that was responsible for the death of their 28-year old wife and mother.
Robin Aleo suffered severe neck injuries after an inflatable pool slide, sold by Toys R Us, gave way causing her head to strike the pool's deck. She was taken to a local hospital where she was later removed from life support due to the severity of her injuries.
In his 12-page decision, Howard J. Whitehead, Associate Justice of the Superior Court, states: "The touchstone for determining the validity of an award of punitive damages is 'reasonableness'…Such being the case, the Court starts its discussion by noting that, having had the benefit of personally observing the trial, the Court, on an intuitive level, found nothing 'unreasonable' about the damage award.
Judge Whitehead cited BMW of North America Inc. v. Gore's three factor litmus test for analyzing punitive damages: "1. the degree of reprehensibility of the wrong committed; 2. the disparity between the harm suffered and the amount of the award; and 3. the difference between the remedy of punitive damages and other penalties that are authorized."
"The risk of danger arising from defendants' omissions was great…..The inexcusable failure to perform the tests necessary to avoid that danger was in every sense of the word, 'reprehensible.'" Judge Whitehead noted that, "…the defendants' oversights arose from the fact that its safety assurance unit was woefully understaffed. Approximately 4-5 employees were assigned to evaluate the safety of 60,000 products per year."
"The misconduct was gross negligence, consisting of a failure to undertake whatever tests were necessary to verify the weight-bearing capacity of the slide, with the result that a death occurred."
Thomas Smith, principal at Sugarman and Sugarman PC., who tried the case with Sugarman principal Ben Zimmermann, said. "We believe the judge correctly applied the law to this case and upheld the jury's findings." This award represented the largest personal injury verdict of 2011 in Massachusetts.
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