Buckyballs Founder Could Be Found Personally Liable For $57 Million In Refunds

Buckyballs: cute office toy, or powerful balls of magnetic doom?  The inventor insists they’re the former, the Consumer Product Safety Commission insists they’re the latter, and the lawsuit fighting it all out just keeps getting uglier.

The small rare-earth magnets have proved exceedingly dangerous to children: they’re a size that’s easy to swallow, and if two or more of them end up in a kid’s digestive tract, they can attract each other, stick together, and cause tremendous damage.  In 2012 a CPSC spokesman described the injuries as “like a gunshot wound,” only without entry or exit.

Many retailers pulled the product after the CPSC filed a complaint against the manufacturer, Maxfield & Oberton.  Usually when the CPSC says a product needs to be recalled, the manufacturer recalls the product.

Not in this case, though.  As the Washington Post reports, the CPSC must obtain permission to file a lawsuit and the convince a judge that a product is defective in order to force a recall.  And so sue the CPSC did.

The CPSC filed a lawsuit against Maxfield & Oberton in order to stop them from selling Buckyballs back in 2012.  But then in December 2012, the founder, Craig Zucker, dissolved the business.

As the business is no longer in operation to be sued, the CPSC is now suing Zucker directly, as well as two other companies, Zen Magnets and Star Networks, that also make similar rare-earth magnets.  If the CPSC lawsuit is successful, Zucker could be found personally responsible for refunding customers up to $57 million.

The case is the first time since 2003 that the CPSC has resorted to a lawsuit to initiate a recall, according to the Washington Post, and it’s even more uncommon for such an action to name an individual rather than a business.

In addition to the current lawsuit, the CPSC is now considering regulation that would limit the attractive force of small magnets.

Federal regulators suing Buckyballs founder in rare product-recall case [Washington Post]