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Consumer Product Safety Commission: Companies not reporting product problems

April 19, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A number of companies are not reporting products with significant problems or those that may have injured consumers.

The companies argue that it's not always clear when problems should be reported, or whether the product is actually unsafe or if it was used improperly. Even so, companies are paying fines that reach into the millions.

One-hundred-fifty-eight people were injured by a now-recalled weed-trimming device. The feds say the manufacturer "knowingly failed to report several safety defects or hazards immediately to the CPSC as required by federal law." As a result, the weed-whacker manufacturing company was whacked with a fine just under a million dollars.

A recent investigation found a disturbing trend: The number of companies penalized for not reporting safety defects is growing. In 2010 the CPSC fined two companies more than a half-million dollars. In 2011 that number increased to 10 companies, and the fines totaled more than $4 million. That includes manufacturers of defective buggies, high-end refrigerators, exercise equipment, office equipment and even drawstring sweatshirts.

"It greatly concerns us when injuries pile up and we're not told," said Scott Wolfson, CPSC.

Federal law requires that when a company learns that a product fails to comply with safety standards, contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard or creates an unreasonable risk for serious injury or death, it must immediately inform the CPSC.

"Companies struggle with when to report to the CPSC," said attorney Christie Grymes Thompson.

Thompson represents manufacturers and says companies consider whether consumers were misusing the product, whether there is a pattern, and what is a "substantial defect."

"If the risk is maybe a little bump, probably wouldn't trigger an obligation to report, but if the risk is cutting off a body part or a concussion or something that's more significant then that would likely trigger an obligation to report," said Thompson.

"If in doubt, report," said the CPSC's Wolfson.

The CPSC is also calling on consumers to let commission know about product problems. CPSC wants manufactures to know it's watching and counting. By reporting concerns, you could actually be helping to save lives. her consumers were misusing the product, whether there is a pattern, and what is a "substantial defect."

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