Magnetic Toys and the Buckyballs Recall

Magnetic toys such as Buckyballs and Magnetix can be swallowed by children, causing tears to a child's intestines and leading to injuries and even deaths. Because of these risks, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) along with several companies have recalled Buckyballs and some Magnetix building sets. Read on to learn more about these product recalls and the implications they may have for product liability lawsuits filed against the manufacturers.

What is a Recall?

A product recall is when a manufacturer or retailer calls for a specific product to be returned to them due to a defect or risk involved with the product. The CPSC works with manufacturers and retailers to have risky products recalled voluntarily. If the manufacturer or retailer fails to recall the product on its own, the CPSC may file a lawsuit against the company requesting that the judge order the product be recalled.

Buckyballs Recall

Buckyballs are a toy made of groups of small strong magnets used to create different shapes and structures. They were created by and imported from manufacturers in China by Maxfield & Oberton.

In May 2010, the CPSC along with Maxfield & Oberton recalled the high-powered magnetic toys that were labeled for "Ages 13+." The recall was due to the fact that the standard for these types of magnets changed in 2009 when it was determined that they should not be sold to children under 14. Consumers could give the magnet sets back for a refund, as is typical in a product recall case. Since March 2010, the Buckyballs were labeled "Keep Away From All Children." The toys were sold online, in office supply stores, and in other retail locations.

In July 2012, the CPSC filed an administrative complaint against Maxfield & Oberton claiming the Buckyballs continued to have defects in design and warnings, posing a risk of injury. Some children were placing the Buckyballs in and around their mouths to pretend to have tongue, lip, and other piercings. By the end of 2012, Maxfield & Oberton dissolved. The CPSC then went after Mr. Zucker, former CEO of Maxfield & Oberton, individually to cover the cost of the recall. On May 9, 2014, the case settled and Mr. Zucker agreed to personally fund a Recall Trust where consumers will have six months to request a refund for their Buckyballs.

Previously, several major retailers voluntarily agreed to pay their own costs in recalling Buckyballs, including:

  • Barnes & Noble
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • Toys R Us

Magnetix Recall

A similar magnetic toys recall began in March 2006 when the CPSC announced a voluntary recall with Rose Art Industries of all Magnetix Magnetic Building Sets. These magnetic building toys made in China contained magnets that could fall out and be swallowed by children. In one case, a 20-month-old boy died.

Rose Art later became Mega Brands America. In April 2009, Mega paid a $1.1 million fine for their magnetic toy violations. In contrast to Buckyballs, there are still Magnetix sets available on the market today, although these are either new designs or are marketed for different ages and with different warnings than the defective products.

Product Liability Implications of Buckyballs Recall

The laws that protect consumers from unsafe and defective products, such as these small strong magnets, are called product liability law. A defective product may or may not have been recalled. Regardless, when a defective product harms a consumer, that consumer may want to sue the companies responsible for their injuries.

The Buckyballs recall involved multiple children harmed by swallowing the strong magnets. The children or their surviving family members may, individually or in a class action, sue the companies that made or sold Buckyballs. There are a number of legal bases for a Buckyballs product liability lawsuit, such as:

  • Negligence
  • Strict liability
  • Breach of warranty

CPSC Commissioner Nancy Nord was concerned about the Buckyballs ban because it is a product being safely used by the group it's intended for (adults as a desk toy) rather than being unsafely misused by another group that it was never intended for (children and teens). The issues of use, misuse, labeling, who the toy was marketed to, and where the toy was sold are all likely to come up in a Buckyballs products liability case.

Next Steps

If you or your child has been harmed by a magnetic toy or other product, consult a qualified products liability attorney for more information. You should also check to see if a product you or your children are using has been recalled.

For more information on dangerous children's products, visit FindLaw's Dangerous Baby & Kids' Products section.