Recalls Not Enough to Keep Products Off the MarketOct 3, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is urging federal safety regulators to stop the sale of secondhand products recalled for potentially deadly flaws.
This move comes after her office discovered over 400 recalled bassinets for sale in secondhand venues, primarily Craigslist. The bassinets, sold under the Simplicity, Graco, and Winnie the Pooh labels, all contain defective designs that caused the deaths of two babies.
We have long been reporting on what Madigan's investigation revealed: A key flaw in the process of recalling dangerous consumer products. Quite simply, recalls are only as good as the information provided and the follow-up action taken. If someone in the purchasing chain—consumers, retailers, and resellers—does not receive the appropriate information and cannot act on it, a dangerous, recalled product can end up in a consumer’s possession.
Five of Madigan’s staffers reviewed over 300 nationwide Craigslist sites, contacting all of those people who were attempting to sell recalled bassinets. Staffers helped sellers secure refunds when stores initially refused to take the products back. Madigan staffers relayed their concerns to the Craigslist corporate office; however, they received no response according to Cara Smith, Madigan's deputy chief of staff.
Some of the issues involved store managers disputing that the recalled items had been recalled or demanded that bassinet owners provide proof that recalled items were purchased there, no easy task for many of the consumers since many of the bassinets were given as gifts or purchased years ago for a different child and few families saved the original packaging affixed with bar codes.
In announcing a large crib recall in August, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) listed retailers who would provide store credits or cash refunds to consumers who returned the bassinets; however, the CPSC did not advise consumer how to figure out—using product model numbers—from where the items were originally purchased. Madigan’s office worked with retailers and secured such a list, spending hours haggling with stores to refund consumers their money. Although Madigan's staff turned to the CPSC upon occasion for assistance, the CPSC did not provide any help. As a matter-of-fact, Smith called the CPSC recall hot line for assistance with a consumer in Alaska who was unable to get any store to take back her bassinet because the store where she originally purchased the item had closed. According to Smith, the CPSC hot-line operator told her she was "out of luck."
Meanwhile, CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese defended its current strategy in the secondhand market and said that the CPSC has worked with eBay, Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and others to stop recalled products from being sold. Vallese also claimed local CPSC field offices also check Craigslist; however, the mere fact that Madigan's staff was able to find so many potentially deadly bassinets means the CPSC strategy apparently isn't working, countered Smith. Not one single consumer contacted by Madigan’s office had heard about the recall. "The issuance of a recall is like a starting gun," Smith said. The follow-through, she added, is what counts.