Backyard Water Slides Prove Dangerous For Adults, Teens

If you're thinking about hauling out the Slip 'N Slide or similar backyard water/lawn toy for the family picnic this weekend, don't. Not unless you're prepared for possible paralyzing injuries to adults and/or possible serious injuries to children. More than a year ago the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Kransco/WHAM-O, the makers of some backyard water slides including the Slip `N Slide, warned adults and teens that they should not use the toy intended for children.

Because of their height and weight (more than 125 pounds), adults and teens who dive onto water slides may hit and abruptly stop, suffering permanent spinal cord injuries, the warning said.

Unfortunately the warning didn't get much press. In an era when the media gets volumes of information by fax, mail and computer, a warning doesn't always merit the same attention as a recall.

Approximately 9 million WHAM-O backyard water slides were sold nationwide from 1961 through February 1992 under the names Slip `N Slide, Super Slip `N Slide, Slip `N Splash, White Water Rapids, Fast Track Racers and Wet Banana.

Kransco, which quit making water slides in 1992, was bought by Mattel Inc. last May.

The Marchon Corp. of Vernon Hills, Ill., also sells water slides and continues to make them.

At the time CPSC sent out its warning last year, the federal safety agency said seven adults who used WHAM-O slides suffered neck injuries, quadriplegia or paraplegia, and a 13-year-old suffered a fractured neck.

But Matthew Rinaldi, a Bay Area attorney who has represented a California quadriplegic injured in 1991 on one of the slides, says more daunting statistics have come to light in the past year.

Rounding up information gathered from other lawyers, Rinaldi says two people broke their necks using water slides in the early 1970s, and one died. Six adults, including his client, broke their necks on water slides in the 1980s and 1990s, and an 8-year-old girl suffered brain damage.

WHAM-O, the original manufacturer, quit making water slides in the 1970s after several serious injuries and lawsuits. But Kransco, a San Francisco company that bought WHAM-O in the 1980s, revived it.

Rinaldi says one of the problems in getting out the word is the "mosaic of protective orders" keeping the news from the public.

When Rinaldi got a settlement for his client, they agreed not to disclose the sum. But when Rinaldi wanted to publicize the problems of water slide injuries, he had to get a court order to avoid being sued (or having his client sued) by Kransco.

Rinaldi said he never agreed to a gag order not to discuss the injuries. Some lawyers have agreed to gag orders to arrange substantial dollar settlements for injured clients. So there are questions about whether all the statistics are in to CPSC.

As of last week CPSC knew of 50 minor injuries from water slides to youngsters from age 3 to 13, between 1975 and the present. The injuries ranged from cuts, bruises, sprains and some fractures of legs and fingers, according to Elaine Tyrrell, CPSC spokeswoman.

Even a product that is no longer manufactured can be recalled, according to Tyrrell. But she said any comments about a possible recall would be premature speculation. There is no time deadline on CPSC's current review of water slides and their safety, she added.

Glenn Bozarth, a spokesman for Mattel, which now owns Kransco, said his company is cooperating with CPSC in a review of Slip `N Slides.

If you or a family member have suffered a serious injury on any water slide, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1-800-638-2772. The teletypewriter for the hearing impaired is 1-800-638-8270.

Shelby Gilje's Troubleshooter column appears Wednesday and Sunday in the Scene section of The Times. Do you have a consumer problem? Write to Times Troubleshooter, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Include copies, not originals, of appropriate documents. Phone, 464-2262, FAX 382-8873.

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N.L., Bainbridge Island: The U.S. Department of Transportation says airlines are not required to find a spot for you on another carrier if they can't take you within four hours of your scheduled flight. Airlines don't guarantee their schedules. Sometimes you have to be assertive, get yourself a ride on another carrier, then arrange with your credit card company to cancel the ticket you couldn't use. Remember that some tickets are nonrefundable.

L.G., Kirkland: Glad you have a refund of $42.40 from DLM Products of of Vernon Hills, Ill., for the photo calendars that were unsatisfactory.