PHOENIX – An Arizona family won a $435,000 judgment in federal court after a child swallowed a decorative bead coated with a chemical that metabolized into a date-rape drug when ingested, marking the first verdict of its kind in the nation over the toy.
The jury decision Thursday in favor of Mark and Beth Monje came in one of several lawsuits filed against Aqua Dots, a toy craft kit in which children can create designs by spraying beads with water.
The product was the subject of a recall in 2007 amid reports that nine children in the U.S. and three in Australia became sick after swallowing the beads.
The recall by the Consumer Protection Safety Commission led to the collection of about 4 million kits.
Aqua Dots were produced in China by Australia-based Moose Enterprise and imported by Spin Master in 2007.
Tests showed the beads were coated with a chemical that, when ingested, metabolizes into gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), more commonly known as the "date-rape" drug. The compound can induce breathing problems, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness, coma and death.
Monje's toddler son swallowed some of the beads in July 2007, resulting in what the family's attorney says is permanent brain damage, loss of fine motor skills and sense of smell. The jury awarded the Monjes $58,000 for medical bills and another $377,000 for pain and suffering, lawyer Melanie McBride said.
McBride said the jury found Moose Enterprise responsible for developing the toy and for the work of the Chinese lab it hired to manufacture the toy.
The verdict also allotted a portion of the responsibility to Spin Master for not testing the toy to ensure its safety. Toys R Us, where the Monjes bought the toy, was also named as a plaintiff but was not held responsible.
"This was a huge victory for not only my client but for consumers of toy products worldwide really," McBride said.
Attorneys for Spin Master and Moose Enterprise did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The trial focused solely on restitution for the boy's hospitalization as a result of swallowing the beads. McBride is appealing to a federal appeals court to receive more evidence from Moose Enterprise so the family can file a lawsuit alleging brain injuries and seeking punitive damages.
McBride said the verdict was the first time a jury ruled in a case involving Aqua Dots. About 10 other cases were settled before going to trial, she said.
Scott Wolfson, communication director for the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, said the Aqua Dots recall in 2007, coupled with the recall of more than 21 million Chinese-made toys found to have dangerous levels of lead, prompted Congress to pass a 2008 law mandating that Chinese manufacturers follow American safety standards for toys imported to the U.S.
"Poor young children at risk of ingesting the date-rape drug made it a very serious issue," Wolfson said.
Moose Enterprise still sells a product in the U.S. under the name Beados, though it no longer contains the harmful chemical.
Wolfson warned parents to throw away products with the Aqua Dots labeling.
"It's important for parents to know that if this is a product that has lingered in a toy chest that was put in the attic, do not put this product for sale in a garage sale or give it up to charity, just dispose of it," he said.