Whatever Happened to Company Doe?

For now, Company Doe – the first to launch a court challenge against the publication of a complaint in saferproducts.gov, the publicly accessible database mandated under the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, will remain anonymous. A July ruling by a U.S. District Court judge, made public yesterday, maintains the seal on any records that identify the company, the product or the facts of the dispute.

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Product Safety Takes a Big Leap Forward

Just before Thanksgiving, a majority of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission gave consumers an early holiday present, approving a Final Rule that will establish a publicly accessible consumer product safety complaint database. For the first time since the commission was created, manufacturers will no longer control the flow of information about their products. By spring, consumers will be able to report their own complaints and research others via a web interface.

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The Right Way and the Wrong Way

On the eve of a vote on a Final Rule to establish the new database, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioners Anne Northup and Nancy Nord, have proposed an alternative to newly mandated consumer product safety database from that recommended by the staff. In a recent blog post entitled, “A Wrong Way and a Right Way – Which Will We Choose?” Commissioner Nord details the specific aspects of the database rule that prompted this Hail Mary pass: who can submit complaints and inaccurate information.

“Congress provided us with a list of those whose complaints should go up on the public database.  We have contorted the plain language Congress used into definitions that have no meaning.  For example, Congress told us to accept complaints from “consumers.”  The majority has determined that since everyone consumes something, we need to accept complaints from everyone—no need for any relationship to the product, harm or incident.  Think plaintiff lawyers trolling for clients or unscrupulous competitors wishing to harm a product’s reputation,” Nord writes.

CPSC Puts Information in Hands of Consumers

After taking comments from the public, and by that we mean, the remarks of a handful of advocates and consumers and the complaints of 33 trade organization reps and business owners, the U.S. Product Safety Commission is now preparing to vote on a Final Rule to establish a consumer complaint database.

The database represents a sea-change in the accessibility of consumer product information, wresting control from manufacturers, who held sway over the flow of public information for nearly three decades.

SRS President Sean Kane, who testified before the CPSC at a public hearing on the database, urged the agency to build a public database by fusing sufficient detail on the product and problem and public availability of the data in a timely fashion.

Could Crib Tents Become a Regulated Product?

On December 27, 2008, the strangulation death of Noah Thompson by a Tots In Mind crib tent became the first to be investigated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission involving this unregulated product. Eighteen months later, in July, the commission and the manufacturer finally announced a recall featuring a repair remedy for the attachment clips.

The Thompson case underscores two continuing weaknesses in the regulatory framework meant to ensure the safety of juvenile products: long gaps between the time when a product is deemed hazardous and a recall, and the difficulty in dealing with baby products that fall outside of the CPSC regulations and are not manufactured to any voluntary or mandatory standard.

The CPSC says that the Tots In Mind recall may only be the first action it takes to protect toddlers from the design deficiencies of crib tents.

Jury Finds Sunbeam’s Improved Electric Blanket Circuit Still Doesn’t Fail Safe

A Missouri federal court jury has found Sunbeam Products, Inc. partially responsible for serious burn injuries suffered by a bed-bound elderly woman who was sleeping under one of its electric blankets, when the blanket caught fire.

Barbara Kay of Morgan County, Missouri was sleeping under a Sunbeam electric blanket on October 28, 2008 when it ignited, severely burning 35 percent of her body. Kay had been invalided by a stroke 10 years earlier, which had paralyzed the left side of her body. Kay was also a smoker who smoked in bed, and kept her cigarettes, lighter and ash trays on a tray positioned on her right side, along with the controls for her hospital bed and electric blanket. At about 7 a.m., Kay awoke to pain on her left side and saw flames leaping out of the left side of the bed near her leg and hip. Kay, who was in her 70s, recuperated in the hospital for five months, but lost part of her left arm, as a result of her burns.

Fire department investigators determined that fire originated on the left side of the hospital bed, and narrowed the source of ignition to the blanket or a cigarette, but concluded that a burning cigarette was most likely the source of the fire.

In late June, however, a civil jury concluded that the blanket played a role in the fire, and in awarding Kay $2 million in compensatory damages, assigned one third of the blame to Sunbeam. In the second phase of the trial, the jury heard evidence of Sunbeam’s $1.9 billion net worth, to determine punitive damages. George McLaughlin, who represented the Kays with co-counsel James Crispin, asked for $1 each for the 30 million blankets Sunbeam had sold. But before the jury could decide, Sunbeam and the Kays reached a confidential settlement.

The End of the World as We Know it

The very best consumer products complaints database would be one which allows manufacturers to thoroughly vet each complaint – no matter how many years it takes; one that would be accessible to the public, unless that member of the public is a plaintiff’s attorney or a reporter; or one that prohibits complaints that might tarnish an industry’s reputation. In other words, a database that preserves the status quo.

Pet Doors: A Little Known Gateway to Childhood Injury and Deaths

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - Matthew Ranfone was only two years old when he slipped out of his Orlando home, into an enclosed patio area and through a pool fence into the backyard pool. His parents found him minutes later floating face down. Matthew died 13 days later from the injuries sustained in the near drowning.

It's a scenario well-known to a handful of child injury specialists - especially those who study the morbidity data in warm weather states. In fact, since 1996 there are nearly 100 documented cases of children endangered after exiting the home via a pet door. Nearly three-quarters resulted in injury or death. Mathew's mother, Carol Ranfone, had no idea at the time that her son could easily escape through the small opening, but she is determined to warn other parents.

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