Lawn Darts for the Torts Museum

[Great News. The Torts Museum accepted my invitation. My lawn darts will be safely displayed in the museum’s “Dangerous Toys” section.]

When I first heard the news about Ralph Nader’s new American Museum of Tort Law, my first thought was, “Awesome!  A Torts Museum.”  My second thought was, “My lawn darts!  They belong there.”

In case you missed the news, the Torts Museum opened last month in Nader’s home town in Winsted, CN.  The museum offers a history of American tort law, with exhibits covering everything from the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case to the even more infamous Ford Pinto exploding gas tank fiasco.

I bought my lawn darts about twenty years ago at a garage sale.  Never used.  No dirt or even bloodstains.  Pristine.  I knew it would be selfish for me to keep enjoying them, like hiding a Rembrandt in a private studio.

Lawn darts were banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1988 on the basis that their risk outweighed their social usefulness.  The Commission reported three deaths associated with lawn darts from 1970-1988 and an estimated 700 annual emergency room cases. Then-Commissioner Anne Graham explained the Commission’s risk-utility analysis (which my current first-year students will recognize as Judge Hand’s famous formula for negligence):

What limited recreational value lawn darts may have is far outweighed by the number of serious injuries and unnecessary deaths. This week another child was severely injured by a lawn dart. She is now in critical condition. There are numerous alternatives to lawn darts, and I would urge adults who have lawn darts to throw them away now.

The most amazing aspect of my set of Jarts is that the packaging doesn’t include a single warning.

Most Exciting Outdoor Game TodayLawn Dart Headed Straight For MomTo the contrary, it touts lawn darts as “The Most Exciting Outdoor Game Today.”  No doubt.  Nothing like a screaming ambulance to liven up the neighborhood.

Best of all, it was a game for the whole family, except … oops, that missile on the cover appears headed straight for mom!

Here’s the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s original notice of the ban, which “urges consumers to discard or destroy all lawn darts immediately” and instructs them to call the Commission’s hotline if they find any still for sale.

4 comments to Lawn Darts for the Torts Museum

  • Richard Newman

    Dear Tortman – I was delighted to read your article about the Tort Museum and the Lawn Darts.
    Send ’em up, and we’ll include them in the section of our Museum about Toys that Kill. Please also feel free to call me so that I can introduce myself.
    Thank you,

    Richard L. Newman, J.D.
    Executive Director
    American Museum of Tort Law

  • PJB

    I was so jealous of friends who had this game. My parents were no fun at all. Played with them in our backyard once – the regular target game was fun – but much more fun when thrown straight up; the landing was much faster. Bean bags are safer, I guess, but only half the fun. I survived to tell the tale – but six inches to the left or right, I could easily have had brain damage or worse.

    • Andrew J. McClurg

      Ha, you are lucky you survived. And what’s more fun than kids launching steel-tipped missiles? Seriously, you are right. There’s a definite trade-off between risk and utility and part of the utility of Lawn Darts was, ironically, risk. Much more exciting than beanbags.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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