Magnetic rivals head for court

Magnetic toy specialist Plastwood is taking Mega Brands to court, claiming it ruined the magnetic construction toy market after its Magnetix brand was blamed for causing the death of a young child and injuring others.
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In a suit filed in the US District Court's Western Washington District in Seattle, Plastwood, the manufacturer of the SuperMag, says its sales plummeted after Rose Art's Magnetix brand was blamed for a child's death and for serious injuries to other children who swallowed the small magnets which came loose from its toys.

"Plastwood introduced the category of magnetic construction toys in 1999 and we have spent an extraordinary amount of time and money making sure that our toys exceed the highest safety standards," said Edoardo Tusacciu, president and founder of Plastwood. "Regardless of the care we took with our products, we believe the actions of Mega Brands have led to the death of one child, and injuries to dozens of others.

According to published reports, the small and powerful magnets came loose from Mega Brands' Magnetix toys and were ingested by children, many of which sustained serious injury when the magnets connected while in the children's digestive tracts.

In May 2005, Rose Art learned of the problems with its toy, and was put on notice of a personal injury claim by the family of a 10-year-old child who claimed to have swallowed Magnetix magnets and suffered injury, the complaint states.

In November 2005, Kenny Sweet, a 22-month-old boy died from complications after ingesting eight of the Mega Brands magnets.

"We believe Rose Art knew of the problem in May of 2005, but continued to market the toy to children until March 2006, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a warning after the Sweet boy died," said Nick Styant-Browne, attorney with Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, representing Plastwood.

Despite the warning, Plastwood claims Mega Brands did not pull Magnetix off store shelves or add warnings or package labels to the toy, allowing unwitting consumers to continue to purchase the toy.

"It wasn't until October 25th, 2006 when Mega Brand's parent company Rose Art acknowledged the dangers of the toy, and said it had made manufacturing changes to ensure the safety of its product," Styant-Browne said.

"In our investigation, we have found that many big retailers are continuing to market the old toys alongside the redesigned ostensibly safer version," said Styant-Browne. "We contend that had Rose Art designed a safer product, and advertised it accurately, the magnetic toy market would not have collapsed."

However, according to Tusacciu, the fallout was immediate and severe. "Although our toys were never once cited as dangerous, buyers from across the country began cancelling orders."

According to Styant-Browne, retailers and customers alike confused the products. "Parents were returning boxes of Plastwood toys and retailers were pulling them off the shelves."

“A buyer from one of the big-box retailers told Plastwood they were canceling a multi-million dollar order as a direct reaction to the Magnetix issue," Styant-Browne said. "When Plastwood explained the difference between the products, the buyer said 'we don't care, they are all magnetic toys.”

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