New Consumer Product Safety Database Faces Legal Challenge

A recent lawsuit challenging the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s new product safety database, www.saferproducts.gov, could have serious implications for the online consumer reporting site and other comparable federal tools. According to the Washington Post, the lawsuit was filed in October 2011 by an unnamed company seeking to block a posting that its product allegedly harmed a child.

Our product liability and drug recall attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm recognize that the database is an important consumer tool to keep the public informed about potential product hazards without waiting for a recall. The online portal was created as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, and allows consumers to post complaints about products that posed dangers to children, as well as fire, electric, or mechanical dangers. Due to the potential for serious injury caused by defective products, manufacturers are legally responsible for guarding against negligence and providing a reasonably safe product to the public.

Although critics of the consumer reporting site argue that it unfairly threatens a company’s reputation and profits by allowing inaccurate claims to reach the public, companies can use several protective measures to prevent baseless allegations from being published. First, the site contains a disclaimer that consumer complaints may not have been verified. The law also requires that all complaints are forwarded to the relevant manufacturer, who has 10 days to respond before the complaints are published. Additionally, companies have an option to post their own comments along with the report.

A recent study by the Government Accountability Office confirms that the CPSC has been highly effective at resolving inaccuracy claims. Only one-third of all complaints received from March through July of 2011 contained the required information for publication. Of those, the small percentage that contained materially inaccurate information were quickly identified and corrected.

Despite using its best efforts to provide consumers with important information about dangerous products, the database continues to come under fire by businesses seeking to protect their reputations and the bottom line. The legal complaint filed by “Company Doe” seeks to block the online allegations about its product, along with all other relevant documents. If the mystery lawsuit is successful, and a report about a potentially unsafe product is kept from the public, all public consumer reporting databases could be in jeopardy. Similar federal tools, such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the FDA medical device database, have even less protective measures in place to avoid inaccuracy problems. However, the overriding interest in protecting the public from potential product hazards should justify the continuing viability of these sites.

Our defective device attorneys understand the importance of providing consumer product safety information as early as possible, before consumers use a hazardous product that may result in serious injury or death. Risks that are known and documented need to be communicated to innocent consumers who may face significant harm. Companies cannot avoid public scrutiny for unsafe products by hiding in a cloak of anonymity. When consumers are harmed by dangerous products, they may have a cause of action against those who manufactured, sold, or designed those products. It is critical that negligent manufacturers are identified and held accountable, through online reporting systems, federal databases, and product liability lawsuits in order to ensure that consumers are protected.

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