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Forget the misfits - why isn't there an Island of Dangerous Toys?

Retailers are really stuck between a rock and an Abominable Snow Monster at Christmas. First, there are the risks of injuries during a Black Friday rush -- even plush toys can be dangerous if they fall on an unsuspecting shopper or trip a clerk hurrying to clean up a mess in aisle five. Don't even get a retailer started on the risks of the products themselves, especially children's toys.

In the '60s, kids roamed through the Sears Wish Book and compiled lists for Santa that almost always included at least one item that would put an eye out. Toy stores just sold the things, though. Keeping the kids safe from dangerous toys was a matter of adult supervision as soon as the sale was complete.

Things have changed, of course. New York's retailers understand now that they, too, can be held responsible for injuries resulting from defective or dangerous products. This time of year, that puts toy retailers in the precarious position of trying to respond to customer demand while also trying to keep their customers safe from harm -- and themselves safe from litigation.

Product liability is not just about the product. While the manufacturer or the designer may have made the mistake that resulted in the injury, everyone who put that product into the stream of commerce, from concept to display case, can be at the wrong end of a lawsuit. That means that a jury could decide that the parts supplier, the shipping company and the retailer were liable for the injury as well.

Still, choking hazards and other common toy-related injuries are apparently risks that adults are willing to take when it comes to making the kids happy. According to data from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, toy-related injuries increased almost 40 percent from 1990 to 2011.

The numbers for 2011 raise some interesting questions about adults' shopping decisions. The researchers reviewed emergency room visit data and found that one child was treated every 3 minutes for a toy-related injury that year. Even more disquieting: The majority of the children treated were not even 5 years old.

How should retailers respond? Again, it is a question of balancing consumer demand and children's safety -- and, of course, the retailer's own risk tolerance. While children are working on their letters to Santa, store owners may want to spend a little time with their attorneys to understand the risk of stocking up on Red Ryder B.B. guns versus water pistols that shoot jelly or cowboys that ride ostriches.

Source: MainStreet.com, "The Most Dangerous Toys Revealed -- And They're Not Toy Weapons or Choking Hazards," Hal Bundrick, Dec. 1, 2014

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