The CPSC’s searchable data base regarding dangerous products

October 22, 2009 | By | 1 Reply More
Image:  Public Domain

Image: Public Domain

Here’s an idea that is so obvious and so important that we can expect to see great political pressure to dismantle it.   In accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), the Consumer Product Safety Comission (CPSC) is assembling its public database which will be a central location:

[W]here consumers can go to report product safety incidents, and to search for prior incidents and recalls on products they own, or may be thinking about buying. In conjunction with the web site launch, CPSC will also conduct a public awareness campaign to raise awareness of SaferProducts.gov.

The reason for the database is to “Protect and Inform the Public,” according to the CPSC’s recent report, which further provides that the database information:

• provides more timely dissemination of alerts and other information to the public and industry,
• increases public access to product incident and recall data by making consumer product safety information available more rapidly, and
• provides a publicly available, searchable, and easy-to-use database for use by consumers, industry, and CPSC staff.

This CPSC database is not yet operational, but by March 11, 2011 (according to the current CPSC report), any consumer will be able to post complaints regarding dangerous products on this national database.   The CPSC will review these complaints for accuracy.  According to the CPSC,

All incident data submitted via SaferProducts.gov will be subject to CPSC review to verify its authenticity – that the submitters are who they say they are. Any data or incident reports found to be materially inaccurate will either be corrected or will not be published. Furthermore, CPSC will have the ability to remove or correct incident data that has already been published should it determine that the data is materially inaccurate.

This all sounds like a good idea, right?   I think so.  I would make this prediction, though.  There is going to be a massive outcry from the Chamber of Commerce regarding this database and huge push in Congress to make the database less useful.  Admittedly, such a database will embarrass and damage manufacturers of dangerous products.   If misused, it could damage compliant manufacturers, and that would be a bad thing too.   The focus should be on protecting consumers from dangerous products, though.

If I’m sounding overly-concerned that the Chamber will try to bring down the database, it’s because I just read an article called “The CPSC’s Searchable Consumer Product Incident Database,” in October 2009 issue of For the Defense, a publication of the Defense Lawyer Institute.  The article repeatedly takes the position that consumers will be irresponsibly reporting incidents of dangerous products.  Here’s an excerpt:

Under the plan as currently proposed, the consumer submitting an incident report is not required to provide any proof or evidence to support the alleged incident.  Instead, the consumer is only required to “click” on an electronic button next to an existing webpage statement that indicates that the consumer verifies “that the information is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.”

Horrors!  Consumers will merely report what they think happened without any “‘proof or evidence”!   I suppose that the manufacturers will insist that nothing should go on the database unless either A) there is already a trial where the widow of the guy who was electrocuted by the toaster prevails or B) where the manufacturer and the consumer agree to the facts.

Here’s another excerpt from the lawyers representing the manufacturers (from the same DRI article):

Without procedures to prevent the disclosure of inaccurate reports pertaining to a company’s products, the Internet publication of inaccurate, accessible, anonymous consumer product incident reports will be inevitable.

Anonymous?  See the above portion of the CPSC report requiring the CPSC to verify “that the submitters are who they say they are.”     Inaccurate?  See the above portion of the CPSC report: “Any data or incident reports found to be materially inaccurate will either be corrected or will not be published.”

So what would the manufacturers propose to protect consumers from products that explode, cut or burn consumers?  Here’s what I suspect:  that there would be no publicly accessible CPSC database, and that most consumers would remain as they are today–in the dark.

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Category: ignorance, Law, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (1)

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  1. Jay Fraz says:

    BOOHOO!!! : People can go and complain without us being able to do anything! At least with the newspapers we could threaten to pull advertising, or threaten to sue small companies that try the same plan.

    It is amazing how the richest businesses, in the richest country in the world, chartered in the caribbean so they don't pay taxes, are oppressed.

    Of course the business communities view will be under represented in the left wing media, right?

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