Novelty company fined $70k for selling banned yo-yo waterballs in N.J.

A New Jersey superior court judge ordered toy and novelties company Kipp Brothers to pay almost $70,000 in fines and other costs after ruling the company illegally sold yo-yo waterballs despite a ban on the potentially dangerous toy.

Yo-yo waterballs consist of a rubber ball filled with liquid attached to a rubber cord with a finger loop on its end. The cord can be stretched about 3 feet when swung. When 5-year-old Sydney Blacker of Scotch Plains, N.J. (pictured) played with one of the toys on June 3, 2008, the cord became wrapped around her neck and she suffered strangulation injuries -- including burst blood vessels -- before her mother was able to remove it.

The toy had been banned in New Jersey as of April 2008, more than two months before the incident. The state sued Kipp Brothers, based in Indiana, in June 2009 for selling water balls in the state after the ban went into effect. (The toys are also banned in Illinois and New York.)

State Superior Court Judge John F. Malone found that Indiana Novelty International Inc, which does business as Kipp Brothers, broke consumer protection laws and regulations and ordered the company to pay $54,300 in civil penalties, reimbursement to the state for $11,899.50 in attorneys' fees and costs, and $1,122 for investigative fees and costs.

Kipp Brothers President Bob Glenn told Consumer Ally the company was cooperating with the state in the case, but plans to appeal the judge's ruling on the civil penalty, which he called "excessive." The company had talked with the state about a lower amount for the fine.

"We did not know about the statute and we cooperated with them to the highest degree," he said, adding the company sold less than $250 worth of waterballs. It has since stopped selling them.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission took a look at the safety of waterball yo-yos in 2003 and determined there was a low risk of strangulation from the toy when a child swings it overhead like a lasso. The agency advised parents to use caution when allowing a child to play with the toys. At that time, the CPSC said as many as 15 million were in the United States and pointed out that retailers including Toys R Us, Walgreen's and Saks had stopped carrying the waterballs.

In New Jersey, anyone found selling them faces an initial fine of up to $10,000 that goes up to $20,000 for subsequent violations. The toys are widely available on the Internet, however.

"Anyone who sees yo-yo waterballs offered as a prize or gift or for sale in local stores should file a complaint with us," said Thomas R. Calcagni, acting director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs in a statement. "This is an issue impacting the safety of children, one that companies can easily address by adhering to our law and not selling yo-yo waterballs in New Jersey."
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