Saturday, February 14, 2004

Copyright 2004 Bergen Record Corporation
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Suit says yo-yo ball nearly killed boy

A Ridgefield man is suing a North Bergen toy distributor for selling a yo-yo ball that he said nearly strangled his 6-year-old son last June.

In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Hackensack, Steven Eppolito says his son, Michael, was playing with the water ball when the elastic cord wrapped around his neck, choking him.

The boy was rushed to the hospital "one minute away from death," said Eppolito's attorney, Rosemarie Arnold of Fort Lee.

Eppolito is seeking an unspecified amount in damages from Anpesil Distributors Corp.

Officials at Anpesil did not return phone calls.

The lawsuit comes amid worldwide concern over the safety of yo-yo water balls, which are manufactured in China and Taiwan and sell for about $1 to $5 each. The squishy balls are filled with a liquid and attached to a bungee cord that can be stretched up to 5 feet.

England, Germany, and Canada are among several countries that have banned yo-yo balls. Yet roughly 15 million of the toys have been distributed in the United States since early 2003, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates toy safety.

Since September, hundreds of children nationwide have suffered mild injuries from the cords, the commission said. In addition, some toy importers and retailers, such as Toys "R" Us, have decided not to carry the yo-yo balls.

The commission nonetheless has determined that the toy isn't a serious danger.

"The bottom line is that this is a scary experience for the child and the parents," said Ken Giles, spokesman for the commission. "But we do not believe it rises to the level of a hazard that requires regulatory action."

Instead, the commission has urged parents to "exercise caution in allowing children to play with this toy."

Arnold said she hoped the lawsuit would ultimately lead to a product recall.

Some toy importers and distributors said they no longer carry yo-yo water balls - but not because the toy has received negative publicity in the last two years.

"Its popularity has waned since last summer," said Peter Tiger, chief financial officer of Imperial Toy, a Los Angeles-based toy company that used to import and distribute yo-yo water balls. "The yo-yo water ball was like everything else that comes and goes. People are not crazy about it anymore."