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Could more defective products be left on the market soon?

Are more defective products likely to find their way into consumer hands over the next few years?

Quite possibly, if the incoming presidential administration cuts the power of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to levy serious fines against businesses that fail to immediately report potential product hazards.

It's only been since 2008, when President George W. Bush signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, that the agency developed any real power to levy significant financial penalties against companies that failed to comply with the rules. The legislative action was prompted by a 2007 newspaper series that exposed the ineffectiveness of the CPSC to protect consumers and highlighted a number of cases where children had died as a result of defective products.

Up until that point, the relatively minor fines that CPSC could level were so low that major retailers and manufacturers seemed to consider them just one of the costs of doing business—when they were caught. Because of the incoming presidential administration's campaign promises, which included cutting business regulations, the agency has some serious concerns that it will lose its relatively new-found authority to make a difference in consumer safety.

If that happens, what would that mean for consumers?

The CPSC and industry watchdogs believe that things could return to pre-2008 standards, where retailers and manufacturers routinely ignored their responsibilities to issue recalls on dangerous products unless faced with significant financial losses and a lot of bad press. Many companies simply settled out of court with the victims to keep the issue with a product out of the news and put off recalls as much as possible. Essentially, it was cheaper to let a dangerous product stay on the market and pay the few product liability and wrongful death claims that popped up than it was to issue a recall.

Regardless of what happens in the future, consumers should be aware of the website maintained by the CPSC, which aims to help consumers learn about product recalls in order to prevent additional injuries from happening.

It's also important to note that recalls don't eliminate the liability of a company that puts a defective, dangerous product out on the market in cases of personal injury. In fact, a product recall may actually help a plaintiff establish that a product was defective and responsible for the type of injury that he or she has.

Source: The Kansas City Star, "Consumer safety agency flexes its muscles but is likely to face pushback under Donald Trump," Dec. 27, 2016

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