CPSC Consumer Complaint Database Requires Vigilance From Product Manufacturers

April 2011

The Consumer Product Safety Commission ("CPSC") launched its publicly available Consumer Product Safety Information Database ("Database") on March 11, 2011. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated the creation of the Database. This new, searchable online government database allows consumers to post reports of harm without any verification of the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the report.

Through the Database, consumers will be allowed to report product-related complaints publicly without publishing their names or contact information. The CPSC permits anyone that has observed a product being used to submit such an anonymous report, including consumer advocacy groups, competitors in the industry, and even plaintiff’s lawyers. The CPSC has stated it will not be verifying the accuracy or completeness of the reported information.

The Commission will only redact consumer information that a manufacturer proves is materially inaccurate or includes trade secrets within 10 days of receiving notice of a report.

Unchecked, manufacturers are concerned that unverified, inaccurate and incomplete information regarding their products will be given unwarranted credibility as the reports are published from a government platform. Further, monitoring and responding to the complaints quickly, create an additional burden for thousands of businesses who, are only given 10 days to challenge a posting before their information is widely distributed. A challenge alone will not delay publication of the report.

Many legal experts believe the database will not only stir up unnecessary public fear based on unsubstantiated complaints, it will also create a sticky, legal backlog of discovery issues in litigation cases. For example, it is unclear whether courts will allow information from the Database to be used a evidence of "prior similar incidents". For the first time, the plaintiff’s bar will have a centralized, government source of claims that, once published, becomes a permanent mark against a company – whether or not the claim is unfounded.

Any business that manufactures consumer goods, imports or deals in private label goods is likely affected. Such companies should go to the CPSC website (www.SaferProducts.gov) and click on the Business Registration button in the upper left corner and follow the prompts to set up a business account. Registering will enable the CPSC to communicate with the company about any consumer reports filed on their products.

For further information on the CPSC Database or other product liability concerns, contact Beth Naylor, Erika Schoenberger, or any other attorney in Frost Brown Todd’s Product Liability Practice Group. 

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