Retailer liable for wrongful death caused by swimming pool slide

Under Massachusetts law, a person who, by his or her negligence, causes the death of another person, is liable for the loss and damages they have caused. This certainly applies to a retail store whose negligence causes a wrongful death, as was demonstrated in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case of Aleo v. SLB Toys USA, Incorporated.

Tragic accident at a swimming pool

While visiting relatives in Andover, the 29-year-old victim tried to use an inflatable swimming pool slide by sliding down it head first. The slide collapsed when she reached the under-inflated bottom and her head struck the concrete through the fabric of the slide. The victim's two upper cervical vertebrae were fractured; as a result, she became a quadriplegic. Doctors determined that she would never breathe or move on her own again. In accordance with her wishes, her family had life support withdrawn and she died the following day.

The victim's widower filed a suit against the retail store that sold the slide, alleging negligence and wrongful death, as well as other charges. After trial, the jury awarded the victim's widower compensatory damages of more than $2.5 million and punitive damages of $18 million. The store appealed, arguing, in part, that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's finding of negligence.

Slide violated federal regulations

On appeal, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court noted the general rule that violation of a regulation is admissible to prove that the one who violated the regulation is guilty as to all the results that the regulation was designed to avoid. The court explained the federal regulation was enacted to lower the "unreasonable risks of death or injury associated with swimming pool slides." Those risks include paraplegia and quadriplegia caused by swimmers going down the slide of a pool head-first. The regulation also required that all pool slides be capable of supporting 350 pounds, and, in this case, the victim weighed only 145 pounds.

The instruction manual included with the slide, as well as a warning label affixed to the slide, stated that it could only support 200 pounds, and that head-first sliding could result in serious injury or death. Two of the widower's expert witnesses testified that the slide did not meet federal standards and was thus defective, leading to the death of the victim. Finally, the judge instructed the jury, without objection, that the retail store had not tested or certified the slide under the applicable federal regulation prior to being imported and sold.

Therefore, the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that the retailer violated the federal regulation and, thereby, the evidence was sufficient to support a finding of negligence.

Pursue justice for your loss

Obviously, no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one. But if you have suffered the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one due to the negligence of another party, that party should be held accountable for their actions. You should seek representation from an experienced personal injury attorney who will fight for justice and pursue maximum compensation for your tragic loss.