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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. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

  3. Hello everyone I'm Gina and I'm here for the exact same thing you are. I have the wonderful joy of waking up every morning to my heart being pulled out and sheer terror of what DCS is going to Throw at me and my family today.Let me start from the !bebeginning.My daughter lost all rights to her 3beautiful children due to Severe mental issues she no longer lives in our state and has cut all ties.DCS led her to belive that once she done signed over her right the babies would be with their family. We have faught screamed begged and anything else we could possibly due I hired a lawyer five grand down the drain.You know all I want is my babies home.I've done everything they have even asked me to do.Now their saying I can't see my grandchildren cause I'M on a prescription for paipain.I have a very rare blood disease it causes cellulitis a form of blood poisoning to stay dormant in my tissues and nervous system it also causes a ,blood clotting disorder.even with the two blood thinners I'm on I still Continue to develop them them also.DCS knows about my illness and still they refuse to let me see my grandchildren. I Love and miss them so much Please can anyone help Us my grandchildren and I they should be worrying about what toy there going to play with but instead there worrying about if there ever coming home again.THANK YOU DCS FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE. ( And if anyone at all has any ideals or knows who can help. Please contact (765)960~5096.only serious callers

  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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