CPSC Investigates the Chair Office Depot Tried to Forget

Last month, The Safety Record Blog wrote about the Gibson Office Chair, a product sold exclusively by Office Depot, and plagued with a bad weld that often broke as occupants leaned backwards.

The Gibson was, structurally, a clone of the Biella leather desk chair, which Office Depot recalled in April. Both shared the same product registration number, were manufactured by the Wonderful Year Furniture Company in China and imported by an outfit called the Swinton Avenue Trading Company, of Boca Raton, Fla. If a slew of Internet commenters can be believed, the Office Depot staff routinely told disgruntled consumers with broken chairs to seek recompense from the importer, which was conveniently inaccessible to the public.

In April, the retail giant was silent on the fate of the Gibson model. Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission told SRS that the agency had opened a new investigation into the Gibson to determine if it “poses a similar risk to consumers.”

Further, Office Depot took pains to inform the CPSC that “there was an error in the identity of the importer of the Biella brand leather desk chairs. Office Depot® is the correct importer for the Biella brand leather desk chairs and also for the chairs that are the subject of the new investigation,” CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said  

Office Depot had recalled 307,000 Biella chairs, retailing at $55. In October, Attorney Paula Wyatt informed the CPSC of the similarities between the Gibson and the Biella. Wyatt represented Nancy Losey in a civil lawsuit against Swinton Avenue Trading. The San Antonio, Texas woman needed a hip replacement after the seat weld in her Gibson Office chair snapped, sending her to the floor. The biggest differences between the Biella and the Gibson were price and have been how many complaints Office Depot got about the two. The Gibson, retailing at about $40 attracted 18 complaints, compared to the 11 complaints that got the $55 Biella recalled.

A Defect Remedy Delayed?

Well, we guess that the Christmas bonuses at Toyota are going to be a wee bit smaller this year, since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pocketed about 12 hours of profit from the automotive giant for failing to launch a timely recall for flying floor mats in the 2010 Lexus RX 350.

Yesterday, Toyota agreed to settle the government’s claim that it failed to file a Part 573 report to the government within the mandatory five days after discovering a defect requiring a recall for $17.35 million. According to the settlement agreement, Toyota admitted to NHTSA that it knew of 63 alleged incidents of possible floor mat pedal entrapment in Model Year 2010 Lexus RX models since 2009.

That brings the Total Timeliness Simoleans (TTS) Toyota has paid to NHTSA in two years to more than $66 million. Now, Toyota may be setting all kinds of NHTSA civil penalty records, but when one considers that the company reportedly posted a $3.2 billion profit in just the third quarter, one realizes, that by any-pain-in-the-pocketbook standard, this fine ain’t nothing.

In a statement dripping with gravitas, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said: “Every moment of delay has the potential to lead to deaths or injuries on our nation's highways.”

This fine stems from a NHTSA-influenced floor mat interference recall last summer involving 2010 Lexus RX350 vehicles. In May 2012, the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation asked Toyota to review nine Vehicle Owner Questionnaires that indicated a floor mat entrapment problem for the 2010 RX. Toyota then reviewed its records for “additional reports that could indicate circumstances that may be consistent with potential floor mat entrapment.” On June 22, the automaker presented to ODI cases in which “potential floor mat entrapment was possible or alleged to have occurred in the subject,” including a timeline when each of the reports was received,” according to Toyota. On June 29, Toyota announced its 11th recall related to unintended acceleration, for alleged pedal entrapment by the All-Weather Floor Mat, involving the 2010 Lexus RX350 2010 and RX450 H vehicles.

The Fallout from Fire Pots Continues, Will Regulations Follow?

On July 4, three people were severely injured in Del Mar, California, when a firepot exploded as it was re-fueled, spraying the viscous alcohol-based gel on victims sitting less than 10 feet away.

According to a July 12 report in the Del Mar Times newspaper: “One of the victims suffered third-degree burns over 50 percent of their body and had to be transported via helicopter to a hospital. The other two victims each suffered second and third degree burns over 20-30 percent of their body and were taken to the hospital via ambulance.”

In December 2011, a luckier consumer reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s public consumer complaint database, SaferProducts.gov:

“I purchased Firegel pourable Citronella from Bed Bath and Beyond. I went to pour some more in my fire pot and I guess it was still hot. The gel shot out, caught the bottle of firegel on fire and caught my patio chair on fire. Luckily it did not get on my skin and I put the lid on the bottle and it went out. I was also able to stomp my chair out but it was ruined.

Despite a total of 15 companies yanking the product of its shelves, and September 2011 announcement that nine manufacturers and distributors had recalled fire pot liquid fuel gel, fire  pots and their contents continue to represent a danger to consumers. And, the spectacular fallout from a patio ornament that had debuted about three years earlier continues to settle over the business, litigation and regulatory landscapes.

This week the CPSC announced its 2013 operations plan. Within the planning document is a brief mention that the agency would continue its technical review of the safety of fire pots and fuel gels in support of a potential rulemaking. In December 2011, the agency published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, but took no further regulatory steps this year. In several speeches, commission Chairman Inez Tennenbaum has noted. “Our rulemaking is exploring the question of whether it is possible to make gel fuel safe for consumers to use...”

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