A Michigan family is suing Nintendo of America and Toys R Us, charging that repeated use of a video game caused injury to nerves in a teen-ager's hands of the sort usually associated with the use of computers and machinery in the workplace.
Nintendo said it has never faced a case associating this type of injury with the game.
In the workplace, repetitive stress disorders are the fastest-growing category of job-related illness, according to the Labor Department. But this suit may be the first to link a toy with the problem.
In the suit seeking $10,000 in damages filed in Macomb County (Michigan) Circuit Court on Monday, Karen LaBruzzy said her daughter Nicole began suffering numbness and tingling in her fingers after playing the Nintendo Entertainment System, including a Zapper gun attachment, starting in August, 1988, when she was 15. The teen-ager developed the injury after playing the game several hours a day for several weeks, according to Barry Seifman, the family's lawyer.
Nicole LaBruzzy sought medical attention in November and was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, a type of repetitive stress injury, based on measurements of electronic impulses in nerves in her hands and wrists, according to Seifman.
Although the problem abated when she stopped using the game, the numbness comes back when she tries to type or carries bags while shopping, Seifman said. He argues that the game should have been designed differently or had a label warning that it could cause damage.
Nintendo and Toys R Us said they had not been informed of the suit and could not comment specifically on it. But a spokeswoman said Nintendo's philosophy was "moderation in all good things. Parents play a key role in monitoring their kids' leisure time." The problem of "Nintendinitis" was reported in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine last year, when Dr. Richard Brasington, a Wisconsin doctor, said a 35-year-old woman entranced by her first encounter with the game suffered sore thumbs after playing for five hours without interruption.
Nintendo pain hit the pro basketball court in February this year when star rookie Lionel Simmons of the Sacramento Kings sat out two basketball games because his wrist was so inflamed from a daylong session of the video game that he could not grip the ball or shoot, according to a Kings spokesman.
In the syndrome Nicole LaBruzzy says she suffers, the nerves passing from the thumb and first two fingers through the carpal tunnel, a sheath of tissue in the wrist, become pinched, causing pain, numbness and inability to move fingers freely. Damage to nerves is sometimes irreversible, according to Bruce Bernard, a physician at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The injuries loom large in the realm of product liability. Although lawsuits used to be most often associated with one-time accidents, increasingly workers are suing because of cumulative trauma disorders, based on repeated small strains.
Several computer manufacturers have been faced with multimillion-dollar suits charging that their terminal or keyboard designs cause debilitating injury through repetitive stress.