Massachusetts High Court Affirms $20.6M Award in Slide Death

The highest court in Massachusetts upheld a $20.6 million jury award on Sept. 13 for the family of a woman who died after hitting her head on a concrete pool deck when an inflatable slide partially collapsed.

A jury awarded Robin Aleo’s family a total of $20.6 million — $18 million in punitive damages and $2.6 million in compensatory damages — in 2011, finding that the slide sold by Toys R Us did not comply with federal safety standards.

Toys R Us appealed, arguing that the 1976 Consumer Product Safety Commission regulation cited by Aleo’s family does not apply to inflatable in-ground pool slides, but only to rigid pool slides. The company also said the trial judge allowed lawyers for Aleo’s family to inflame the jury by accusing Toys R Us of importing an “illegal” product when it had relied on a certification that the slide met all safety regulations.

Aleo, 29, of Louisville, Colo., was visiting relatives in Andover in July 2006 when she climbed to the top of the Banzai 6-foot slide and slid down head first. Her husband, Michael, and 15-month-old daughter were watching as her head hit the pool deck. She suffered a broken neck and died the next day at a Boston hospital.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that there was enough evidence to support the jury’s findings and said the $18 million in punitive damages did not exceed constitutional limits.

A spokeswoman for Toys R Us declined to comment on the ruling.

“We’re pleased that the court affirmed what the jury found and recognized … the appropriateness of the award in light of the loss suffered by the Aleo family,” said Benjamin Zimmermann, a lawyer for the Aleo family.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced in 2012 that Toys R Us and Wal-Mart stores were recalling the slides, citing Aleo’s death and injuries received by two other people, including a woman from Allentown, Pa., who fractured her neck and a man from Springfield, Mo., who became a quadriplegic.