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Nordstrom to Pay a $60K Civil Penalty For Failure To Report Dangerous Clothing

Dec 4, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) just announced that Nordstrom Inc., of Seattle, Washington, has agreed to pay a $60,000 civil penalty.  The fine settles claims  that Nordstrom knowingly failed to report to the CPSC immediately, as required by federal law, that its children’s hooded jackets and sweaters were sold with drawstrings at the hood and neck.  The drawstrings pose a strangulation hazard that can cause death to children.  Nordstrom eventually recalled the dangerous products and the CPSC has provisionally accepted the settlement, it said.

Federal law requires manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to immediately report to the CPSC—immediately being within 24 hours—after obtaining information that reasonably supports the finding that:  “A product contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard, creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death, or violates any consumer product safety rule, or any other rule, regulation, standard, or ban enforced by the CPSC,” says the CPSC.

According to the CPSC, Nordstrom sold about 2,400 drawstring jackets and sweaters in the United States between November 2007 and December 2007. Nordstrom announced the subsequent recalls in February 2008 and March 2008.  In agreeing to settle the matter, Nordstrom Inc. denies the CPSC's allegations that it knowingly violated the law.

In 1996, the CPSC issued drawstring guidelines meant to help prevent children from becoming entangled or strangling on hood and neck drawstrings in upper outerwear, such as the recalled Nordstrom products.  In May 2006, the CPSC’s Office of Compliance issued an announcement that such outerwear with drawstrings at the hood or neck would be regarded as both defective and a substantial risk of injury to young children.

Manufacturers and retailers have notoriously not complied with the established, voluntary standards regarding drawstrings on children’s clothing.  In just the past year there have been dozens of recalls of hundreds of thousands of units of children's clothing because of hood or waist drawstring issues.  In recent years there have been reports of dozens of deaths and even more injuries because manufacturers and retailers such as The Gap, Old Navy, Nordstrom's, Sears, and K-Mart ignored the voluntary CPSC standards.  New York and Wisconsin have made the standard mandatory.

Since April 1, 2007, there have been 17 recalls of over 190,000 units of children’s clothing because of drawstrings in the hood or neck and, still, the guidelines are routinely ignored by the clothing industry, resulting in deadly consequences.  From January 1985 through January 1999, the CPSC received reports of 22 deaths and 48 non-fatal entanglement incidents involving drawstrings on children’s clothing.  The CPSC can take action if it sees voluntary standards being flouted, which includes levying fines, as it has done in this case with Nordstrom.

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