Fidget spinners: Dangerously fun

Toy fads come with hidden dangers, and fidget spinners are no exception. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Often, toy fads come with hidden dangers. Fidget spinners are no exception.

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Fidget spinners are small, palm-sized gadgets that have prongs and circular bearings that will spin between on a person’s fingers. The bearings in the center allow them to spin, and the bearing can be brass, steel, ceramic, titanium or other materials. The spinners themselves are made of various materials. Many look similar to a three-blade mini propeller or the triple heads on an electric shaver, but some have only two blades while others have four, five or more blades, or are completely circular.

Lack of regulation and proven effectiveness
Fidget spinners were initially marketed as a tool to help children with ADHD, autism or anxiety to improve their focus by relieving the need to fidget, but as with any new or redesigned gadget they soon became popular with the masses. They are now all the craze and flying off of toy shelves and mall kiosks. They can be found in just about any color, in character, camo or other trends, can glow in the dark or have blinking LED lights, and can currently be found for well under $10 or as high as $30.

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These toys have not been confirmed as to their effectiveness to help children improve their focus, but to date there have been no controlled studies to conclusively link fidgeting with less anxiety or increased concentration. Fidget spinners are not approved by the FDA, so they are not regulated in their safety, product design or composition. Some brands do contain age restrictions and choking hazard warnings, but there are certainly no warnings of the dangers of their misuse.

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Potential dangers
Fidget spinners can prove to be hazardous and even deadly, particularly to children, when taken apart, broken or used in a manner that is not intended. They are comprised of small parts that have been known to fall off and cause choking hazards when swallowed. Many have what seem to be weights about the size of a penny at the ends of the blades. This makes them easy to swallow in the hands of younger children. One child had to have surgery to remove the part she had swallowed, and another child got the weight stuck on his finger and had to have the spinner part cut off in an emergency room.

Karen L. Sorrell, CPCU, is an editor and insurance technical resource with FC&S, a resource for insurance coverage analysis. Sorrell can be reached at ksorrell@alm.com.

Businesses that manufacture, distribute or sell potentially hazardous products are best served by the coverages of a specific Products Liability policy to cover the legal liability for the quality of their products. (Photo: Shutterstock)

When spinning, some of them are designed with edges that are sharp enough to even cut through flesh. An actress in London posted on Instagram that she was forced to drop out of a play because a fidget spinner went awry in a shop, struck her behind the ear, causing a concussion requiring up to two weeks of bed rest. A Michigan woman claimed her fidget spinner caught fire while charging a Bluetooth gadget allowing the spinner to connect to smartphones to play music. She claimed that she hooked the spinner to a baby monitor charger because it had no charging instructions.

Because of these and other incidents, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is investigating the spinners. The Good Housekeeping Institute tested various spinners and determined that they are not suitable for children under three years old.

Insurance implications

Naturally, when a product is defective or causes injury, insurance can be brought into the claim. Product liability and negligence issues can arise. While some product liability is covered by the commercial general liability (CGL) policy under products-completed operations liability, businesses that manufacture, distribute or sell potentially hazardous products are better served by the coverages of a specific Products Liability policy to cover the legal liability for the quality of their products.

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For example, the ISO CGL does not provide coverage for manufacturing defects, or for product recall. Product liability insurance provides coverage for an insured’s liability for bodily injury or property damage from a third party due to a defect or malfunction of a product, and pays for the insured’s legal fees and any damages awarded because of the faulty product, as well as reimbursement for any products that need to be recalled.

Related: The 8 most misunderstood coverage issues in CGL insurance

Karen L. Sorrell, CPCU, is an editor and insurance technical resource with FC&S, a resource for insurance coverage analysis. Sorrell can be reached at ksorrell@alm.com.

A toy manufacturer is required by law to exercise reasonable care in its design and manufacture so that the toy does not cause undue harm. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Regardless of the type of injury, the actual legal basis for a product liability claim will be negligence of the designer or manufacturer of the toy. Four main elements would need to be proven in the claim:

– the toy was defective;
– the defective toy was caused by negligence of the designer or manufacturer;
– the injury was a direct result of the negligence in design or manufacture of the toy;
– the injuries were compensable damage.

A toy manufacturer is required by law to exercise reasonable care in its design and manufacture so that the toy does not cause undue harm. It would be unreasonable for a manufacturer to absolutely cover any and all ways a child could be injured by the toy (such as in their misuse).

An exception to this would be where the design or manufacture of a toy is clearly hazardous because of its obvious dangerous design, manufacturing flaw or inadequate warnings. In this case, the manufacturer would be subject to strict liability and the courts would not require that the claim prove negligence, but rather only that the injuries were compensable (as in the case of miniature cars painted with lead based paint which resulted in lead poisoning to a child).

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In the case of children’s products, product liability claims can be made against the manufacturer, supplier, distributor or retailer/seller. Because the seller could be held liable should the manufacturer go out of business or not be identified or other, they must do everything reasonably possible to ensure that the toys they sell are safe for children. This is especially true when the products are made in different countries, as the seller needs to be responsible for offering toys that meet the industry’s quality and safety standards.

The fidget spinners on the market today are a trend that will likely fade in popularity over time, such as the Yo-Yo and Rubik’s cube. Until that time, the industry could very well see claims arising from the hazards of choking and misuse of these popular toys.

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Karen L. Sorrell, CPCU, is an editor and insurance technical resource with FC&S, a resource for insurance coverage analysis. Sorrell can be reached at ksorrell@alm.com.

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