The Supreme Judicial Court today upheld the verdict for the death of a 29-year mother who died after the portable pool slide she was going down at a family gathering in Andover partially collapsed, severing her spinal cord.
The state's highest court said that in establishing that Robin Aleo's widower had suffered $2.6 million in damages due to his wife's 2006 death, a punitive award of $18 million - or about a 7-1 ratio - was not out of line:
Toys R Us's conduct, as found by the jury, evinced a substantial degree of reprehensibility. The ratio of punitive damages awarded to actual harm is within the single-digit range that generally accords with due process ... and a comparison of punitive damages to possible civil penalties suggests that the amount of the punitive damage award is not so excessive as to exceed constitutional bounds. The jury's award of punitive damages in this case, while perhaps higher than many such awards, cannot "fairly be categorized as 'grossly excessive' " in relation to the Commonwealth's legitimate interests in condemnation and deterrence.
The reprehensibility comes because while Toys R Us had an outside company test the product, that company never checked to see which laws might apply to pool slides - and it turned out the maximum allowed weight of the slide was under a federal minimum - and that Toys R Us had only one employee to check the roughly 4,000 such certifications it received every single month, the court said.
The court also said the judge in the 2011 case did nothing wrong in discarding a police report that said the woman might have jumped or dove onto the Chinese-made Banzai Falls In-Ground Pool Slide, causing its collapse, because the police officer did not witness the incident and could not recall who had told him that.