How early warnings about dangerous products may be missed

Consumer Reports’ investigation finds the government system is broken

SAN ANTONIO – When it comes to removing dangerous products from the marketplace, most of us assume that government regulators are able to move quickly to protect us. But that’s not always true. A Consumer Reports investigation found a broken system within the Consumer Product Safety Commission, leaving unsuspecting consumers vulnerable to injuries, or even death, from dangerous products.

A malfunctioning fire extinguisher, a lawn mower, and a nail gun that shoots nails sideways are three products that all allegedly were linked to horrific injuries. Yet, most people have probably never heard of them.

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 Consumer Reports’ Rachel Rabkin Peachman. “But, our investigation found that the CPSC rarely learns of these lawsuits.”

The CPSC declined to comment on Consumer Reports’ specific questions.

The 1990 law, as originally proposed, 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 was eventually 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 said.

But, such lawsuits often take longer that two years.

Jonathan Judge, a lawyer who specializes in product safety counseling for manufacturers, said the law is fine as it is. Consumer advocates, however, are calling for change so the CPSC is informed earlier and more fully.

“Every lawsuit alleging injury or death should be reported to the CPSC,” said Oriene Shin, Consumer Reports’ product safety expert.

Aside from Section 37, consumers can still regularly check to see if products they own have been recalled by visiting saferproducts.gov.


About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.