CONSUMER REPORTS –Imagine the dire situation of having a malfunctioning fire extinguisher, a lawn mower with a potential hazard, or a nail gun with a defect that shoots nails sideways.
All of these issues allegedly resulted in horrific injuries, yet you’ve probably never heard of any of these problems. How is that possible?
“Well, there is this law, known as Section 37, companies have to notify the CPSC when a certain number of lawsuits alleging serious injury or death are settled or ruled for the plaintiff within a certain period of time,” said Rachel Rabkin Peachman, Consumer Reports Investigative Reporter. “But our investigation found that the CPSC rarely learns of these lawsuits.”
“People should know about these lawsuits, and safety officials should be able to investigate and take action as needed,” said Oriene Shin, Consumer Reports Policy Counsel for Product Safety.
The CPSC declined to comment on specific questions from CR. But it’s important to know that the law, as originally proposed before it was enacted in 1990, called for companies to alert the CPSC about a product when a single lawsuit had been filed alleging significant injury or death.
But that’s not what ultimately passed.
“It’s now required to be reported -after- three lawsuits have been settled or found in favor of the plaintiff within a specific two-year period,” Peachman explained.
“Lawsuits like these often take longer than two years. So, it’s rare that the CPSC finds out about these lawsuits at all,” said Shin.
In fact, over the last 25 years only two companies have been cited for failing to report lawsuits to the CPSC.
While Jonathan Judge, a lawyer who specializes in product safety counseling for manufacturers, says the law is fine as it currently stands, the failures of Section 37 have consumer advocates calling for changes.
“Every lawsuit alleging injury or death should be reported to the CPSC when it’s filed. The agency should have all of the information it needs to keep potentially dangerous products out of people’s homes,” said Judge.