Parents frustrated over recall delays

February 4, 2008 9:26:34 PM PST
Two New Jersey parents have some harsh criticism for the agency in charge of product recalls and the companies that are supposed to report to it. They say the organizations take too long to inform the public about potentially dangerous even deadly problems.

The law doesn't specify how many complaints must be lodged against a company before a recall is issued. However, it does require companies to report known defects or problems to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission immediately. Whether or not companies actually do that is hard to tell.

Abigail Hartung may not remember the incident that eventually sparked a recall of nearly 9,000 cribs, but it is something her parents will never forget.

"I jumped out of bed immediately, took her out of the crib and I was in shock," said Andrew Hartung.

The Hartungs say the bolts connecting Abigail's crib had come loose. Her hand was trapped between the railings.

"Could have been her leg, her head, neck anything. It just came apart," said Andrew.

Abigail's parents reported the problem to the importer, Bassettbaby, immediately.

"He kept repeating it over and over, 'We believe it's an isolated incident. We haven't had any other complaints like this,'" said Andrew.

But Action News has learned the company started receiving what it calls warranty claims about the railings two years earlier, yet didn't alert the CPSC about any of those problems.

Bassettbaby had received 85 complaints about the railings, but didn't alert the CPSC until the Hartung's case.

Bassettbaby said it informed the CPSC about the Hartung incident three business days after the family reported it and the CPSC announced the crib recall 49 days later.

Bassettbaby said the number of warranty claims represents less than one percent of all cribs sold and no injuries were ever reported.

"Often manufacturers wait nearly three years before telling the CPSC about a defective product that can kill someone," said Rebekah Scotland of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group.

The CPSC says manufacturers are required to report known product problems within one to 10 days, depending on the gravity of the situation.

"Most companies aren't doing this because the CPSC lacks the authority to truly hold wrongdoers accountable. Even after many complaints have been made about a product, the CPSC can't disclose that information until negotiations have been made," said Scotland.

Consumer advocates are calling for:

  • creating a public database where anyone could learn about product safety investigations and reports of problems.

  • giving the CPSC the power to mandate recalls instead of having to negotiate with companies to issue voluntary recalls.

  • increasing the fines the CPSC can levy against companies for knowingly jeopardizing public safety.

    A bill that includes some of these provisions and more has already passed through the U.S. House, but now it's waiting for the Senate's approval. you can learn more about the bill by www.notinmycart.org.

    Also, if your family has a problem with a product, it is critical you file a complaint directly with the CPSC instead of relying on the company to do it for you. You can learn more by visiting www.cpsc.gov.


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