Failure to properly recall dangerous products can and does lead to tragedies and costly product liability lawsuits in the U.S. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for the government agencies responsible for protecting U.S. consumers to allow unsafe products to remain on the market.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is one of these agencies. A report released in late December by Senator Maria Cantwell and the Democratic-minority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation harshly criticizes the CPSC’s failure to protect the American public.
The report cites the agency’s failure to swiftly recall three products known to cause harm, including a baby bassinette, a stroller, and a residential elevator.
“Consumers and their families should have confidence in the products they buy,” Senator Cantwell said in a press release. “Industry and the Consumer Product Safety Commission need to take action to ensure that consumers aren’t buying dangerous or defective products and that those who do receive a real remedy.”
The CPSC failed to take appropriate action despite multiple reports of injuries and deaths related to these products.
Failure #1: Deadly Baby Bassinettes
For years, the CPSC refused to pull a popular baby bassinette by Fisher-Price—the Rock’n’Play Sleeper—off the market, even though it is linked to dozens of infant deaths since 2009.
Whereas other cribs and bassinettes lie flat, the Rock’n’Play bassinette holds babies on their backs at a reclined 30-degree angle. The company conducted no clinical research on the bassinette’s safety and consulted with just one family physician, a doctor from Texas, who eventually lost his medical license.1
While the Rock’n’Play was touted as revolutionary, its design was based on faulty beliefs about infant sleep. In fact, the design of the Rock’n’Play conflicted with guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) about safe infant sleep. The AAP recommends infants sleep faceup in an empty crib or bassinette and says babies should not sleep for long periods of time in an inclined position.
The CPSC finally recalled the bassinette in April 2019 at the urging of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who called the device outright dangerous. By that time, 32 infants had already died.2
To add insult to injury, the CPSC allowed Fisher-Price to offer a meager remedy for consumers. The company gave refunds only to people who purchased the bassinette on or after October 12, 2018, and only if the consumer had the original receipt. Worse, those who purchased the product before October 2018 simply got a coupon for a Fisher-Price product.
So, the CPSC allowed Fisher-Price to turn a safety recall into a marketing opportunity.
Failure #2: Dangerous Strollers
Unfortunately, the Fisher-Price fiasco isn’t the only recent failure by the CPSC.
The agency also ignored staff warnings urging an immediate recall of the Britax B.O.B jogging stroller, despite hundreds of reports of wheels detaching from the stroller, leading to injuries.
Instead of recalling the stroller, the CPSC allowed Britax to distribute repair parts to consumers and put up a DIY video on how to fix the problem.3 This was after the stroller had already faced recalls in 2014 for finger injuries and again, in 2017, after reports came in of babies falling from the stroller.
In 2019, the CPSC reportedly terminated a lawsuit against the stroller manufacturer and settled with the manufacturer, allowing them to offer nearly 500,000 stroller owners a replacement part or a coupon for a new B.O.B jogging stroller (another insufficient, pro-business remedy).4
As of April 2019, only around 20% of the strollers were fixed, according to the Senate Commerce Committee report.
Failure #3: Unsafe Home Elevators
The Senate Commerce Committee report highlighted yet another failure on the part of the CSPC. This time it concerned a residential elevator used in resorts and large homes.
Many of the elevators have a gap between the outer and inner doors that is large enough for small children to become trapped in. As of the time the report was published in late December, the CPSC had only issued a safety alert calling for inspection of the elevators.
The Committee has criticized the agency for failing to require action to fix the poor design. Issuing a safety warning for a potentially defective residential elevator “illustrates an approach that provides no benefits to anyone, other than potential legal cover for the elevator manufacturers,” said the Committee in their report.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission Must Do Better
The Senate committee report urges the CPSC to act more swiftly in issuing safety warnings, fining companies that fail to report hazards and requiring companies to completely remedy the problem for consumers who buy a product that is dangerous.
The report also criticizes the CPSC for approving recalls in a way that generates more business for the responsible companies, rather than requiring the companies to provide new, safe products or refunds following recalls.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the CPSC’s behavior is that the agency didn’t just fail consumers. It failed to protect our most vulnerable citizens—infants and young children. It’s well past time the CSPC started fulfilling its intended mission—protecting consumers—rather than acting as a shill for big business.
Legal Help for Consumers
Saunders & Walker P.A. has a long history of protecting consumers from dangerous and deadly products. If your child or the child of a loved one has been harmed by a faulty product, contact Saunders & Walker P.A. immediately at 727-579-4500 to discuss your legal options.
Our skilled attorneys have experience with both individual product liability lawsuits and product liability class action lawsuits. Since 1987, we’ve made it our mission to get justice for people who have been wrongfully harmed or killed by corporations, insurance companies, and product manufacturers.