Finding Out About Product Recalls

Every year, thousands of people die and millions more are injured in accidents involving common consumer products like toys, appliances, sports and exercise equipment, furniture, household chemicals and power tools. Although some accidents are the user’s fault, many are caused by unsafe products and could have been prevented if consumers had been warned about potential dangers.

A federal government agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), was formed to help reduce the number of injuries and deaths from consumer products. The CPSC has jurisdiction for over 15,000 types of consumer products. It helps develop safety standards for products, bans products so dangerous that no standard would protect consumers, and educates the public on product safety. Another tool the CPSC uses to help reduce accidents from consumer products is the product recall.

How Recalls Work

When a manufacturer learns that its product violates a consumer safety rule or contains a hazardous defect, it is required by law to notify the CPSC. The manufacturer can decide to voluntarily recall the product. If it doesn’t voluntarily recall the item, the CPSC can ask the company to do so. The CPSC can also request less severe measures, such as putting a warning label on the product’s packaging. Although most companies comply with the CPSC’s requests, some don’t. When this happens, the CPSC can go to court to get the proper action.

The success of a recall depends on consumers learning that the product is dangerous and has been recalled. News releases and other media announcements are used to notify consumers, but too often, word about a recall does not reach consumers. For example, in 2006, Target Corp. recalled nearly 200,000 Kool Toys because they contained harmful levels of lead and had sharp objects that could injure children. Even though news releases and other announcements were issued, only about 1% of these items were returned to the retailer. There are many similar stories of unsafe products remaining in the hands of consumers even after a recall was issued and widely publicized.

One of the best ways for consumers to find out if products they own are recalled is to mail in product warranty and registration cards. With owners’ names in their records, manufacturers of recalled products can provide written notice about problems.

Consumers can also learn about many product recalls by electronic notification. Several government agencies will notify consumers by e-mail or other electronic means. To get on these lists, visit the web sites listed below. Also, by going to www.recalls.gov, you can easily get on a list of recalls.

If you receive notice about a product recall, read it carefully to find out what to do. Some products can be returned for a full refund. Other manufacturers ask consumers to exchange their product for a safe model or have it repaired for free. Sometimes, use of the product must be stopped immediately.

Autos, Food and Other Non-CPSC Regulated Products

As discussed above, the CPSC monitors consumer products. Other federal agencies monitor different kinds of products, and it is important to know about them.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) oversees motor vehicles and related equipment, including child safety seats and tires. Their website — www.nhtsa.gov — lists current recalls and also allows users to search a database for recall information on specific vehicles and automotive items. Since the NHTSA started recalling equipment, nearly 300 million vehicles as well as millions of child car seats have been recalled.

• The Food and Drug Administration oversees drugs, medical equipment, food, cosmetics and pet food. Their website — www.fda.gov — provides recall information for these items.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture handles the recalls of meats, poultry and eggs. Their website is www.usda.gov.

You and your family can reduce the risk of injuries by being careful, watching for product recalls and acting promptly when something you own is recalled. If you are hurt by a product, get medical help. Our law firm can advise you about recovering damages for injuries caused by defective products.

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