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As of March 2011, CPSC has established a government-sponsored, public, online database of complaints against consumer products with regard to safety. It merits the immediate attention of manufacturers, importers, and private labelers of consumer products and their counsel.
Our CPSC Response/Prevention Team represents and counsels manufacturers, importers, and private labelers responding to notices and complaints made through this U.S. regulatory agency,including notices of alleged hazardous defects and recalls. The team also assists retailer clients in their relationships with others in their supply chain that are, or have been, involved with regulatory actions including recalls.
Notices come from any of three CPSC sources. Disregarding, or improvidently responding to, a notice from the CPSC likely will imperil the good will and reputation, if not the very business, of the recipient corporation or partnership. Experienced counsel can substantially reduce this risk.
1st Source, NEW (as of March 15, 2011) The CPSC’s public online database, www.SaferProducts.gov: Anyone in the general public can post a product complaint against a business to appear on the CPSC’s Web-based searchable database. The Washington Post likens the database to “the massive equivalent of an Internet bulletin board on which consumers can post personal safety reviews of products.” If a business receives a Notice from the CPSC that such a complaint has been filed, only 10 business days are allowed for companies to file an objection or response with the CPSC before the complaint goes live on the Internet. Corporate level consideration may be critical.
2nd Source, Office of Compliance of the CPSC: Notice of a complaint and investigation by the CPSC Office of Compliance may be in letter form, mailed directly to the CEO of the company. The notice from the CPSC Office of Compliance will state a period within which a response is required and contain approximately 14 paragraphs of detailed, factual questions. Corporate level consideration is critical. All information provided in response may be subject to a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request to the CPSC from anyone with an interest.
3rd Source, National Injury Information Clearinghouse and some large retailers required to notify their vendors: Correspondence from the National Injury Information Clearinghouse of the CPSC is notice of a consumer complaint that a product poses a safety hazard. Similarly, most “big box” retailers are notifying their vendors by email when they are compelled to report a consumer’s return or complaint which involves a claim of a safety hazard. Corporate level consideration is recommended, although no response is required. Information provided in response may be subject of a FOIA request to the CPSC from anyone with an interest.
Not all consumer complaints can be vetted by the CPSC before being made public. Before March 2011, complaints to the agency were required to be kept private unless the CPSC found they had sufficient merit to notify the manufacturer and/or distributor, and, even then, the CPSC rarely made the complaints public. A few were followed by the Office of Compliance and could require action, such as a product recall. But the nature of the SaferProducts.gov public database makes it a practical impossibility for the CPSC to review complaints for merit, instead requiring the CPSC to make the complaints public unless a company objects and the CPSC agrees that the grounds for objection are well-taken.
The potential certainly exists for the database to be abused by false complaints. It also is highly possible that unscrupulous competitors or disgruntled employees could use the database to disseminate unflattering information or even damaging trade secrets.
Consumer complaints about products outside of the CPSC’s jurisdiction may be posted on the website. Certain products, such as tobacco, alcohol, automobiles, tires, food, drugs and cosmetics, are excluded from the CPSC’s jurisdiction, being covered by other federal regulatory agencies, but still can be the subject of consumer complaints and posted on the CPSC’s public database unless the manufacturer objects.
** The Washington Post likens the database to “the massive equivalent of an Internet bulletin board on which consumers can post personal safety reviews of products.”
Womble Carlyle’s CPSC Response/Prevention Team of veteran product liability and business litigation attorneys helps companies by:
Any result the lawyer or law firm may have achieved on behalf of clients in other matters does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients.