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Mattel Settles Lead Tainted Toy Lawsuit with States

Dec 17, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Mattel has finally agreed to pay $12 million to 39 U.S. states to settle lead claims regarding its toys.  Bloomberg is reporting that the settlement ends a multi-state, 15-month lead probe of a variety of Chinese-manufactured Mattel toys, including its Sesame Street dolls, Dora the Explorer accessories, and a variety of other products shipped to the U.S. last year According to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who led the investigation, said the tainted toys were never  stocked in stores

“Had there been danger involved, the amount would have been higher,” Coakley, said at a press conference announcing the settlement, according to Bloomberg. “No harm actually occurred, but the risk of harm was very high."

Mattel agreed to immediately implement new federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act guidelines banning lead in toys effective February that cut permissible lead levels to 90 parts per million (ppm) from a whopping 600 ppm.  The Los Angeles Business Journal said none of the companies—Mattel, Marvel Entertainment Inc., RC2, A&A Global Industries, Cranium Inc., Eveready Battery Co., Toy Investments, Kids II, and Amscan—admitted to any wrongdoing.  Other defendants not part of this settlement were Costco, KB Toys, Kmart, Michaels, Sears, Target, Toys 'R' Us, and Wal-Mart.

The Massachusetts probe began after two million Mattel- and Fisher-Price-made toys were recalled by the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), said Bloomberg; Fisher-Prices is a Mattel subsidiary.  The LA Business Journal noted that last year Mattel recalled over 21 million Chinese-made toys over lead paint tainting and small magnets that could pose choking hazards in children.  Regarding lead content and according to court papers—said Bloomberg—the toys contained lead amounts as high as 50,000 ppm and were manufactured by third-party contractors in China.  

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said, “This settlement should help stem the tsunami of toxic toys threatening to swamp playrooms and playpens, poisoning children,” said Bloomberg, which noted Connecticut would receive $218,028.  

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Mattel will pay $340,000 to NY, said Bloomberg.  Of note, Cuomo also mentioned a separate settlement reached with five “dollar” stores and a local NY supplier that calls for strict safeguards, said Bloomberg.  That action was taken after a sample of children’s jewelry on store shelves was found to contain lead levels as high as 1,000 times greater than the legal limit.

California reached a similar deal with Mattel in which it is required to implement the safety standards early.  In that case, California claimed Mattel and others failed to warn residents about lead exposure risks, violating California’s Proposition 65, the state’s safe drinking water and toxic enforcement law, said Bloomberg.  

The LA Business Journal said the California suit involved eight other toy companies in addition to Mattel and all told, the toymakers agreed to pay about $1.8 million.  That suit was filed by both California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo last year.  Although the newly enacted federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act banning lead in toys takes effect in February, the manufacturers have agreed to adopt the standards before the effective date, said the LA Business Journal, which added that the monies will go to a fund to monitor the companies’ compliance.


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