The Consumer Product Safety Commission is getting closer to its launch of a product safety public database, a major provision of 2008′s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). If the commission adopts its staff-proposed rule on Nov. 17 without any changes, the CPSIA’s already substantial economic harm will spread even further.
As Congress conceived it, the database is intended to allow the public to weigh in with legitimate complaints about consumer products. Unfortunately, bad information tends to drive out the good, and manufacturers are increasingly concerned that a poorly implemented CPSC product safety database will become a magnet for inaccurate and inflammatory reports about manufacturers and their products.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers frequently use sophisticated public relations campaigns to gin up investigations, encourage enforcement actions or otherwise damage the reputations of corporate defendants, hoping to increase the plaintiffs’ leverage in litigation and bully companies into settlements. It’s easy to envision how such a multipronged campaign against a company could involve salting a database with false and alarmist complaints.
The potential harm from a PR-motivated misuse of the database is why it is so critical that the CPSC commissioners reject several provisions of the staff’s final rule on the database when it votes Wednesday, Nov. 17.
The staff-recommended rule has absurdly expanded the definition of “consumer” (one of the categories of who can file complaints) to include trial lawyers and advocacy groups. It also proposes to include information in the database even if a manufacturer has already provided evidence that the claim is inaccurate, so long as the CPSC staff hasn’t had time to review the claim of inaccuracy.
“We haven’t gotten around to checking it yet,” is no excuse for allowing a false complaint into a database.
CPSC Commissioners Nancy Nord and Anne Northup have proposed an alternate final rule that makes the necessary changes and follows congressional intent. We applaud their proposal and encourage other interested parties to reach out to the CPSC and let them know the current draft rule should not go final without incorporating improvements from the Nord and Northup draft. A copy of their proposal can be viewed here. Please send your feedback to Commissioner_Nord@cpsc.gov