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Is the CPSC Leaving Consumers ‘Holding the Bag’?

Defective Design

Product Recalls to Protect the Consumer?

Is the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency charged with protecting the safety of Americans from dangerous and deadly items in the marketplace, doing its job?

A Senate report released in December 2019 raises the question after faulting the powers that be for their ineffective responses to recalls involving products that have maimed and killed.

“Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission approved recalls, it sometimes did so in a way that generated more business for affected companies, according to the examination of documents involved in three recent investigations by the safety panel,” states a CBS News article titled “Lawmaker says safety panel flubbed recalls, endangering consumers.” “That’s because rather than getting new, safe products or refunds following a recall, consumers are often offered discount coupons for new products.”

These products include B.O.B. Gear jogging strollers, the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleeper and home elevators. The B.O.B. Gear jogging strollers, of which there are 13 models, caused accidents that left the lives of an approximate 100 children and adults changed forever due to front-wheel detachments. At one point, a lawsuit was filed against the manufacturer to force a recall as reports of those 100 children and adults streamed in. The litigation was terminated, and a settlement agreement was reached that allowed B.O.B. Gear to offer a whopping half-million owners of its jogging strollers replacement parts or a discount of 20 percent on a new contraption.

“A similar scenario involved the Rock ‘n Play infant inclined sleeper that has been tied to more than 30 infant deaths, according to the report,” the CBS News article states. “The CPSC and Fisher-Price in early April warned consumers that the sleeper had been linked to the deaths of 10 babies, but did not recall the product until after the American Academy of Pediatrics urged an immediate recall, citing a report from Consumer Reports that linked 32 infant deaths to the device.”

That is bad acting in the eyes of Democratic Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, whose Office of Oversight and Investigations authored the report.

“The notice states that approximately “4.7 million units” were being recalled, and that the consumer remedy is a “refund,”” states the 12-page report titled “Failed Recalls: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Must Take New Steps to Improve Recall Effectiveness.” “Senate Commerce Committee Minority staff investigated this remedy claim, however, and found that it is misleading and materially inaccurate. Selection of the recall link provided in the CPSC recall announcement takes a consumer to the main Fisher-Price recall page. From that page, to find the relevant information, a consumer must: navigate to another page listing all Fisher-Price recalls, then navigate to a third page with a general announcement about the Rock ’n Play recall, and finally, click on a fourth link that displays the actual terms of the U.S. Rock ’n Play recall. This page indicates that a consumer’s “recall resolution” is based on when they bought the product.

“For consumers who purchased a Rock ’n Play sleeper on or after October 12, 2018, a full cash refund is offered if an original receipt is provided,” the report continues. “For Rock ’n Play sleepers purchased before October 12, 2018, consumers “will receive a voucher for a Fisher-Price product to be selected from a list of products to be provided by Fisher-Price.””

Regarding home elevators, they have resulted in child fatalities that brought about major media coverage but minor industry change. In one case, a then-10-year-old boy was trapped between the door in the home that opens to the elevator and mechanical elevator door. He suffered a traumatic-brain injury and is paralyzed.

“For many years, safety advocates have called attention to the known hazard posed by many residential elevators,” the report states. “A large number of these elevators have a gap between the gate or outer door and the hoistway door that is part of the elevator car. The solution to preventing these tragic deaths and injuries is relatively simple, and involves closing the gap between the outer elevator door and the hoistway door. Following the recent reports of deaths and injuries, it appears that Commission staff undertook several efforts to require manufacturers to provide a remedy to consumers that would close and correct the gap between the outer door and the hoistway door.”

No action was taken, and home elevators continue to post a threat.

“As with other recent Commission actions involving defective products that posed a risk of injury or death, consumers were left holding the bag,” the report states.

The root of the problem is that the CPSC – in a similar manner to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – receives much of its funding from the industry it oversees, even more so since the Trump administration.

“Rather than providing consumers with a specific remedy that repairs all impacted products or a refund to remove the dangerous products from homes, these recalls perversely serve as marketing tools to allow the recalling company to sell additional products to consumers,” the report states. “Far from serving as a deterrent, the new CPSC approach focuses on limiting legal liability, minimizing recall costs, and providing consumers with a largely useless “remedy” option.”

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