A company has been ordered to pay a $650,000 penalty for failing to immediately notify government officials of a defective water toy that posed a drowning risk to children.
Product liability attorneys know that even in cases where a recall is forthcoming, manufacturers are not exempt from responsibility.
Thankfully in this case, there were no drownings or other serious injuries reported - but there were several close calls, and this company had a history of marketing a defective product, according to federal regulators.
As far back as 2001, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports there were at least a dozen reports of a defective strap in the seat of a "baby boat" that tore and subsequently resulted in children falling into the water. In a third of those cases, children were completely submerged under water before their caregiver was able to reach them.
Numerous consumer complaints were filed, prompting the company, Aqua-Leisure, to pull about 90,000 units of the product off store shelves.
However, the company continued to manufacture and sell different versions of inflatable infant boats. Between the summer of 2003 and the summer of 2006, the company was reportedly made aware of at least 17 instances where these products, too, either split, tore, ripped or otherwise failed. In four of those instances, the children unexpectedly fell and were submerged in the water. By mid-fall of 2008, the company was reportedly aware of nearly 25 cases involving problems with these products.
Instead of acting, according to the CPSC, the company did not let the government know until the spring of 2009.
And it wasn't until the summer of 2009 that the company issued a formal recall of all its 4 million inflatable infant toys sold in the U.S. within a seven-year window, between 2002 and 2009. By that point, there were more than 30 cases of these products tearing and children falling into the water.
Were it not for the fact that these children were closely supervised, the outcome could have been tragic.
Federal law mandates that any retailer, distributor or manufacturer has just 24 hours to inform government officials after substantiating a claim of a defective product that could pose a "substantial product hazard." Companies are also required to do this if they learn that their product fails to comply with any regulations or standards set forth by the CPSC.
In bringing the allegations that this company failed in its responsibility, a settlement was reached that ultimately allowed the company to pay a hefty fine, while avoiding an admission of wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, many new parents with a child on the way excitedly shop for products and equipment that they assume is safe for their baby. The deputy director for the Consumers Union was recently quoted by a local television reporter as saying that the biggest problem is that many have a false sense of security when it comes to purchases. You assume that if it's for sale, it's safe. Unfortunately, what typically happens is a product hits the market, and it's only after numerous safety problems surface that the product is pulled.
For example, drop-side cribs, which were hugely popular for decades, were recalled after strangulation and head injuries were reported. More than 30 babies died as a result prior to the recall. New construction of those cribs was finally banned in the United States last year.
Soft bedding and crib bumpers, too, have been deemed a problem - but only after millions have been sold. According to the CPSC, 12 babies died as a result of suffocation from sleep positioners before they were recalled.
Baby sling carriers, as well, have reportedly posed major risks. More than a dozen children died as a result of the fabric blocking their nose and mouth.
And highchairs, strollers and car seats routinely make the government recall list. Before making a purchase for your child, check with CPSC.gov to make sure you are not increasing the risk of injury in your home.
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