By GalTime's Consumer Watchdog Mary Schwager
Companies AREN'T reporting injuries! We've exposed a disturbing trend-- which could actually put you and your family at risk!
When a company is notified a consumer has a significant problem, or is injured by a product, it's supposed to tell the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
But we found an increase in the number of businesses busted by the Feds for not reporting.
Failure to report
The photos you see on the page are what federal investigators from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took of the defective weed whacker that injured Leverett, Massachusetts resident Bob Dolan. Dolan says the cap would often pop off when he used it, and one day, "It went slamming into my shin and went right through my jeans it cut the skin underneath and split the skin open. I was bleeding. I was really surprised how much force it hit me with."Defective Equipment
Dolan was actually one of 158 people injured by the now recalled weed trimming device.
The Feds say the manufacturer "knowingly failed to immediately report several safety defects or hazards... to the CPSC as required by federal law" and "did not give CPSC staff full information about the... mounting number of incidents and injuries."
As a result: The weed whacking company was whacked with a fine just under a million dollars. Dolan is pretty bothered that. "It's pretty upsetting when I hear that they just kind of ignored it."
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Companies fined millions
We found the number of companies penalized for not reporting safety defects is growing. In 2010, the CPSC had to fine two companies more than a half million dollars. In 2011, that number increased to ten companies, and the fines totaled more than four million dollars. It included manufacturers of defective buggies, high end refrigerators, exercise and office equipment and several draw string sweatshirt manufacturers.
CPSC Communications Director Scott Wolfson says it's distressing. "It greatly concerns us when injuries pile up and we're not told. Where there's a clear pattern that the company knows about that they're not telling us about that endangers the safety of consumers."
When do companies have to report to the CPSC?
Federal law requires when a company finds a product:
Fails to comply with a voluntary or required safety standard
Contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard
Creates an unreasonable risk for serious injury or death
It must immediately report that to the CPSC. Wolfson says if in doubt, report it. "We want to be proactive in preventing deaths and injuries."
Companies weigh when to report
Attorney Christie Grymes Thompson is a partner in the Washington, DC law firm of Kelley Drye and Warren. Thompson chairs the firm's Consumer Product Safety practice group and works with companies to help them figure out when a customer issue should trigger notifying the Feds. "Companies struggle with when to report to the CPSC."
Grymes says product manufacturers have to weigh factors like:
Was a consumer misusing something?
Is there a pattern of defects?
At what's point do complaints equal a substantial defect?
What's the nature of the risk?
"If the risk is maybe a little bump, it 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." Thompson advises companies never try to avoid a recall by not reporting incidents to the CPSC, especially in light of how the agency has been cracking down.
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How you can help save lives
A word to consumers: If you're ever injured or hurt by a product, you notice something seems dangerous, or not quite right, report it to the company AND the CPSC. The agency set up a special website to welcome anyone to report anything questionable straight to the Feds, that way nothing falls through the cracks. And a word to companies: Wolfson says his agency wants companies to know: It's watching, and counting complaints. "If they're not meeting their obligation if they're putting the health and safety of consumers at risk and keeping that information from us, they can really be held liable."
Dolan, disappointed in how his the weed whacker company handled the overall situation, is glad he reported his incident to the company and the CPSC. "It really behooves companies to take care of these problems on their own as quickly as possible."
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