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Lawyer triumphs over Mattel: Indianapolis lawsuit plays part in worldwide recall of 4.4 million of Polly Pocket toys.

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Indianapolis partner Gordon Tabor with the Tabor Low Group (right) describes the now-recalled Mattel toys that resulted in injury because of the one-eighth-inch diameter magnets in parts of the products (left).The toy giant recalled the product worldwide.







   When attorney Gordon Tabor first took on a product liability case arising in Indianapolis, he instantly knew that it was larger than one little girl.

   He consulted with his two younger brothers, Roy and Jeff – also attorneys at the Tabor Law Firm – and decided to press the case that turned out leading to a multimillion-dollar settlement against toy-making giant Mattel and a worldwide recall of 4.4 million toys.

   "This was a product that needed to be off the market, and we needed to take on Mattel to make that happen," said Tabor, 62, whose been practicing since 1970. "Not only for this little girl but all the other kids with these products."

   His client – Paige Kostrzewski, 7 at the time in July 2005 – had swallowed two tiny magnets from Polly Pocket dolls she ;d gotten days earlier. The 3-inch-tall plastic dolls have magnets inside designed to attach to separate plastic pieces of clothing, such as dresses or pants. Children can attach them by hand or put the pieces into a dollhouse-type part to put on the clothing. Each piece clicks into place, as is referenced in the product name Polly Pocket Quik-Clik Boutique.

   The doll-set products sold between May 2003 and September 2006 and were originally marketed toward children ages 3 to 6, Tabor said.

   In 7-year-old Kostrzewski ;s case, her injuries happened as she put pieces into her mouth to carry them from place to place and inadvertently ingested the 1/8-inch diameter magnets. Within days, she started displaying flu-like symptoms and complaining of abdominal pain, Tabor said. A CAT scan later revealed two items – the magnets – lodged in her small bowel, breaking down tissue and causing peritonitis.

   The toys were bought on a Monday, Tabor said, and a surgery at Riley Hospital for Children happened that following Sunday. Her mother contacted Tabor within the next week.

   Later, Tabor learned that the adhesive used to secure the magnets easily dissolved when children put the pieces in their mouths, he said. In Kostrzewski ;s case, that led to four months of treatment and at least $31,787 in medical expenses.

   The case was filed in California near Mattel ;s headquarters in El Segundo – in part because of Indiana ;s complex product liability statute, Tabor said. A lawsuit here would have been required to target everyone in the "chain of commerce," he said. That includes the product manufacturer in China, the distributor in London, Mattel itself, and the location that sold the product involved in the dispute.

   Instead, Tabor contacted the Consumer Product Safety Commission and in November 2005 filed the paperwork in California because it ;s a more "direct and favorable venue." Mattel counsel came to Indianapolis for depositions in February, and since then they ;ve been negotiating a settle- ment, Tabor said.

   Details have not been finalized by press time for Indiana Lawyer and Tabor declined to discuss a specific settlement amount.

   However, he said part of the settlement included Mattel ;s Nov. 21 worldwide voluntary recall of 4.4 million Polly Pocket products, which entailed eight different types of play sets. About 2.4 million are located in the U.S. that the CPSC has jurisdiction over, he said.

   The CPSC is also investigating other products with magnets that could cause similar injuries, Tabor said. A Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, has also warned consumers about magnets as part of its annual "Trouble in Toyland" report.

   "Each case certainly plays a large role and got our attention," said Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the CPSC. "We ;re glad there are legal remedies out there to bring some of this forward."

   Since Tabor ;s action began on behalf of Kostrzewski, three other children ages 2 to 8 have also reported to have been injured in similar situations, Davis said, and media reports say that a Wyoming family has filed a suit against Mattel for similar injuries to a 6-year-old boy who was playing with his sister ;s play set. The CPSC has 170 reports of magnets coming out of the toys made by Mattel – also the maker of Barbie, Fisher Price, and Tyco-brand toys.

   "We think Mattel recognized early on they couldn ;t defend what happened," Tabor said of Kostrzewski ;s case. "I can ;t speak much what ;s happening with others, but this Indianapolis case started the ball rolling."

   Indiana Lawyer could not reach Mattel attorneys or media representatives for comment.

   Tabor said the recall couldn ;t have happened at a better time: pre-Christmas and during the busiest shopping season of the year. He thinks about his own granddaughter, whom he learned had two Polly Pocket products herself when this case first started.

   "Lawsuits can have a very therapeutic impact in society, and the law serves as a very important role in promoting consumer safety. This case shows that," Tabor said. "Through this, hopefully we can assist in preventing tragedies to children." •
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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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