What triggers a CPSC recall of a defective product?

Product liability insurance

When a product poses a “substantial hazard”

Every U.S. manufacturer, importer, distributor, and retailer of consumer products are obligated to report potential product defects to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission. This doesn’t necessarily result in a CPSC-ordered recall of the product or other corrective measures, although it could. A hearing determines whether the product presents a substantial product hazard that warrants immediate notification to the manufacturer and the public.

What is a substantial product hazard?

The CPSC takes into consideration two types of substantial product hazards:

  1. A hazard presented by noncompliance with safety regulations
  2. A hazard created by a defect in the product

In assessing a hazard by defect, the CPSC considers the following:

  • Is there a pattern of defect? Does the defect arise from the design, construction, finish, packaging, or instructions of the product? The conditions under which the defect presents itself is also taken into consideration.
  • How many defective products were distributed? Just one defective product can serve as a basis to label it a substantial product hazard determination if the perceived risk of injury is significant. On the other hand, multiple defective products determined to have no risk for causing serious injury and little probability of causing minor injuries will likely not result in a determination of substantial product hazard.
  • How severe is the risk? A risk is considered severe if the potential injury would be serious and/or is likely to occur. The CPSC considers injuries already reported, the intended or foreseeable use or misuse of the product, and the demographics of those exposed to the product, such as seniors, children, disabled people, etc.

The CPSC also takes into consideration the product’s engineering information, quality control, products liability lawsuits, results of independent testing labs, and consumer group complaints.

Hazard standards

One a substantial hazard has been determined to exist, the severity of the hazard is then classified into a 3-tier priority system.

  • Class A: The risk of death or critical injury/illness is likely or very likely.
  • Class B: The risk of death or critical injury/illness is not likely to transpire, but is possible, or when moderate injury or illness is very likely.
  • Class C: The risk of serious injury/illness isn’t likely, but is possible, or when moderate injury/illness isn’t necessarily likely, but is possible.

Source: Julie C. Scheipeter. “The Road to Recall: Evaluating Defects for Substantial Product Hazard.” www.lexicology.com. 17 Jan. 2017.
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