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Federal Requirements When a Product is Dangerous

Recalling defective products can be expensive and it may be tempting for manufacturers to ignore flaws. But that can be more costly in the long run, both in financial and human terms.

Under the Consumer Product Safety Act, manufacturers, distributors and retailers must immediately report to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission products with a defect that could create a substantial risk of injury to the public or that present an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.

Federal law requires manufacturers to notify the government of defective products that present a substantial hazard to the public.

A manufacturer of lawn and garden products found out the costs that can be incurred under this law. U.S. Home and Garden, Inc. agreed to pay an $885,000 fine in 2002 for failing to notify the federal government of problems with its Weed Wizard trimmer.

The San Francisco company denied the charges but announced that it entered into a settlement “to avoid the distraction and expense of litigation.”

According to the suit, U.S. Home and Garden Inc. purchased Weed Wizard, Inc. in 1998 and became aware of an internal company report indicating that a metal chain link on the head of a weed trimmer could fly off and cut through skin and bone. The report noted at least twenty incidents, including the death of a three-year-old Alabama girl whose skull was penetrated by a flying link.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission claimed that despite the report, U.S. Home and Garden didn’t notify the agency of the problem and continued to market the trimmer for two more years.

The manufacturer argued that it did not have an obligation to inform the government in this case. The weed trimmers were eventually recalled and the Weed Wizard unit went out of business.

Incurring a sizable fine is only one of the dangers that await businesses failing to report product flaws as required by law. It can also make a company more culpable in lawsuits brought by injured plaintiffs.

Keep in mind that negligent or reckless behavior by a manufacturer can greatly increase the level of damages awarded at a trial. Don’t underestimate the negative effect that negligence can have on a jury or judge.

Certainly, a recall of a defective product can be expensive, but failing to notify the government of dangerous product defects can be financially catastrophic and ruin a company’s reputation.