Will Congress Pass First Major Consumer Product Legislation in 18 Years?

Recent U.S. Senate approval, by a vote of 79 to 13, of a measure to overhaul the country’s consumer product laws and strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission that oversees the marketplace, moved Congress closer to passing the first major legislation in 18 years regulating dangerous products.

However, the Senate bill bears many more teeth than the version the House unanimously passed in December, 2007. While on one hand some consumer advocates consider the House version to be a sop to industry, on the other hand the House bill is endorsed by the White House and by major manufacturers, and there was considerable opposition to the Senate bill including from the Consumer Product Safety Commission itself.

Thus passage of a truly meaningful reform bill to address the many dangerous products on the market is questionable. A conference committee will now attempt to reconcile the two bills.

The urgency of the situation was underscored by the March 17, 2008, announcement of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that Toy distributor Mega Brands has recalled about 2.4 million Chinese-made toys – Magtastik and Magnetix Jr. Pre-school Magnetic Toys – because tiny magnets in the small flexible parts of the animals, vehicles and building sets can detach and be swallowed or inhaled by children and possibly kill them. If more than one magnet is swallowed, they can attach to each other and cause intestinal perforation, infection or blockage, which can be fatal.

This recall is just the latest of many toy recalls already this year. MEGA Brands and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have received 19 reports of magnets coming loose, including one report of a 3-year-old boy receiving medical treatment to remove a magnet from his nasal cavity and one report of an 18-month-old boy with a magnet in his mouth, which was not swallowed. The products were sold at stores including Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us, and K-Mart.

The Senate bill increases the staff and budget of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, creates a public database of complaints about products and empowers state prosecutors to act, including seeking injunctions, if they think the federal government is not doing enough to protect consumers. It would make mandatory many toy safety standards that are now voluntary and require that toys be tested in compliance with a comprehensive set of rules.

The Senate bill would also increase the possible maximum penalty for violations to $20 million from the current $1.25 million. It would make it a crime for a company to sell a product that has been recalled.

Both the House and Senate legislation would increase the budget and staff and would grant the agency the authority to issue rules and penalize companies even when the commission lacks a quorum. Both measures would also allow far less lead in toys.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been hampered as the White House has left vacant a position on the three-member commission. The vacancy has prevented the agency from issuing new rules or penalizing companies that violate the existing ones. The commissions staff of about 400 is roughly half its size in the 1980’s. Just fifteen inspectors monitor all imports of consumer products under the agency’s supervision, a market that last year was valued at $614 billion. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota stated The current system has been broken by years of neglect, an agency that hasn’t told the truth about the problems and an administration that has turned its back on the problems.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims including those involving dangerous and defective products . For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients.

If you or someone close to you has been injured or killed by a product that was not properly manufactured, designed or labeled, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. To learn more, watch our videos.

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