What Does Product Liability Mean Anyway?

by Howard Ankin
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Ralph Nader worked as a lawyer while he researched his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed. The book focused on the Chevrolet Corvair, but many of the problems he detailed, including the lack of standard seatbelts, metal dashboards and steering wheels, and car doors that popped open or off in an accident, applied to every auto involved in highway smash-ups.

In response to the book, Congress passed the Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. Since that time seat belts, air bags, crash tests and manufacturers’ recalls can be traced to Congress and to Nader’s book. Nadar has continued to work for consumer protection, founding the U.S. Public Interest Group (PIRG) as well as Center for Auto Safety, the Disability Rights Center, the Pension Rights Center, the Project for Corporate Responsibility, and the Clean Water Action Project. His groups were instrumental in helping to pass the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1974 and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), and the Consumer Product Safety Administration.

Today, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) investigates product problems, and once it determines that a product is unsafe, CPSC issues a recall. Often, by the time a recall is issued, the dangerous products are already for sale in stores and on websites. Once a recall is issued, stores and retailers are required to remove the product from their shelves, disallow the product to be sold to customers and post a written notice that the item(s) have been recalled. If the product is sold through a website, the merchant or seller must disallow customers from purchasing the product, post a warning or recall notice on their home page and contact the customers via their email or shipping address. Even second hand and resale stores must comply with this law, posting notices of recalled products and not allowing them to be sold or purchased.

In Illinois, the Illinois Attorney General enforces the Children’s Product Safety Act. The Act requires manufacturers and retail suppliers to keep recalled products off the market and also to inform consumers who have already purchased the product with notice that the product has been recalled. Illinois law defines a child product as any item designed for the use or care of a child under the age of 9 years old. Products include toys and nursery products including cribs and car seats.

One of the most recent product recalls is the Playtex brand Pacifier Holder Clip due to its potential as a choking hazard. On January 22, 2014, consumers were advised by U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to immediately stop using this product as the clips can crack and the small broken pieces pose a choking hazard to the small children using them. This $3 item was sold at major retailers including Walmart and Target and online at Amazon.com, among others, starting in July 2010 through October 2013.

This recent recall follows a December 2013 recall of the Playtex brand Hip Hammock Infant Carrier after the corporation received more than 85 reports that the buckles on the straps that wrap around the carrier’s hips and shoulders cracked or broke. There were two reported injuries including one that required an emergency room treatment. This product was sold at major national juvenile and baby stores as well as online beginning in June 2004 through December 2008 for between $40-60 depending upon the model.

In addition to receiving recall notices directly from manufacturers and retail stores, you should regularly check several websites that list recalled children’s products. These include the Illinois site at www.idph.state.il.us, www.recalls.gov and Kids In Danger at www.kidsindanger.org.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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