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Hasbro sued after W.Va. boy suffocates on toy nail

November 29, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Hasbro Inc., the nation's second-largest toy maker, is named in a civil suit filed earlier this month on behalf of the father of a 19-month-old Martinsburg boy who apparently suffocated on an oversized plastic nail from a toy that has been recalled by the company.

Zakary Michael Tetlow died at City Hospital on Jan. 8, 2006, from an airway obstruction by a foreign object, according to Berkeley County Courthouse records in Clerk John W. Small's office.

On Sept. 22, Hasbro announced a voluntary recall of about 255,000 Playskool Team Talkin' Tool Bench toys that included the plastic nails after learning of Tetlow's death and the suffocation of a 2-year-old Texas boy, whose death prompted a separate civil claim.

Gail Carvelli, a Hasbro spokesperson, declined to comment Tuesday about the suit filed in West Virginia, citing company policy.

The nine-page complaint by Damascus, Md., attorney Jerry W. Hyatt filed on behalf of Tetlow's father, Stephen Tetlow, and the boy's estate, was received by the Ohio County Circuit Clerk's office in Wheeling, W.Va., on Nov. 16, records show.

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Stephen Tetlow was appointed executor of his son's estate three days after Hasbro announced the recall, records show. The boy's heirs include his mother, Audrey Tetlow, and the couple's two young daughters.

Hyatt said Monday that the decision to file the case in Ohio County Circuit Court came after conversations with the Tetlow family. He would not elaborate on why the case was filed there.

"I think they're somewhat relieved that the complaint has been filed," Hyatt said.

Hyatt's complaint asks for the court to award compensatory, general and punitive damages in an amount to be set by a jury, along with attorney fees, costs and any other relief deemed appropriate.

According to Hyatt's account of Zakary Tetlow's death, the boy was found by his mother on the floor of his bedroom about 3 p.m., when he usually awoke after an afternoon nap.

"...His lips were blue and he was struggling for breath," Hyatt said. Tetlow's mother saw the detachable nail from the Hasbro toy protruding from her son's lips, but she couldn't remove it, according to Hyatt's complaint.

"Audrey Tetlow immediately took her son outside and screamed for the neighbors to contact 911," Hyatt said. While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, repeated attempts by his mother and her neighbor to remove the toy from Zakary's throat were unsuccessful, Hyatt said.

Attempts by EMS personnel also were unsuccessful en route to City Hospital, where the boy died, Hyatt said.

In announcing the recall eight months later, Hasbro officials noted that the toy was meant for children ages 3 and older.

"We are devastated and heartbroken by the news of these tragic accidents and our deepest condolences go out to the families of these young children," said Al Verrecchia, CEO of Hasbro Inc., in a news release Sept. 22.

Verrecchia noted that the plastic toy nails - more than three inches long and an inch wide - were "far larger" than what is considered a choking hazard under specific federal safety standards.

Hyatt contends in his complaint that the toy was defective and unsafe for its intended purposes at the time it left the control of Hasbro, noting it contained "spherical ends, rounded edges, and a cylinder body, a design that violates applicable industry standards and has caused injury and death to several children in the past."

In an interview in September, Audrey Tetlow said six weeks after her son died, she learned she was pregnant again. Hyatt confirmed on Monday she had given birth to a boy.

Zakary was her "snug bug."

"He was a momma's boy. He was a good kid. He really was," she said.

For information on the toy recall, call Playskool at 800-509-9554 or go to www.playskool.com.

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