Consumer safety complaints to go public in March
The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission is on schedule to go public with a new online database of consumer complaints in March, facilitating consumer access to the thousands of safety complaints and concerns it receives every year.
The http://www.saferproducts.gov/ database will encompass the 15,000 types of consumer products regulated by the CPSC and will not include products such as automobiles, tires, food, cosmetics, tobacco, prescription drugs, and medical devices regulated by other federal agencies.
Consumers who have purchased defective and potentially dangerous products can file a complaint with the CPSC. Under the current system, these complaints are shielded from public view and accessible only by going through the convoluted and time consuming public-records request process. Under the new system, however, the CPSC will publish complaints it receives in the new database within 15 days.
Whenever the CPSC receives a complaint, it has five days to notify the manufacturer, which in turn has 10 days to respond. Companies can challenge the validity of the complaint, argue that it jeopardizes trade secrets, or submit a response. All responses will be published alongside the complaint in the public database. Or, if the company says the complaint is false or that it endangers trade secrets, the CPSC will decide whether to publish it in the online database.
Consumer advocates hail the database for the extra transparency and protections it will provide to consumers. Beasley Allen attorney C. Gibson Vance, who serves as president of the American Association for Justice, said in written comments submitted to the CPSC that the database will help warn consumers about dangerous and defective products before it’s too late. He said that the toxic drywall imported from China was a good example.
“Had this database been available, both the CPSC and American consumers likely would have been able to determine that there was, in fact, a systemic problem with drywall from China and stopped using it,” Mr. Vance wrote. “Without this database in place, it took the CPSC and the general public approximately three years to conclude that there was in fact a problem.”
As the Washington Post notes, it can take the CPSC months and even years under the current system to negotiate recalls with manufacturers, leaving unknowledgable consumers free to buy dangerous products.
The public database has been met by strong opposition from Republicans and corporations, who assert that it could harm profits and other business interests. In a Washington Post report, opponents of the new system also expressed a paranoia that trial lawyers and business competitors could sabotage and manipulate the database with false and inaccurate information.
However, the CPSC said that it has put safeguards in place to prevent such abuse. In addition to giving companies a chance to respond to complaints, anyone who files a complaint must identify him or herself. Moreover, as the CPSC’s name suggests, complaints will be restricted to those involving product defects that threaten consumer health and safety – not complaints about general quality or reliability.
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