The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a $3.4 million fine against an officer store retailer that intentionally failed to report a number of reports of injury allegedly caused by two different models of defective office chairs.
According to a news release from the CPSC, the problem was the seat backs of two different chair models failed. As a result, numerous customers suffered injuries to their backs and elsewhere on their body.
The chairs were manufactured and sold by the office chain store, which is headquartered in Boca Raton, FL.
Federal law holds that it is not enough for manufacturers and distributors to simply be liable when their products cause injury. They owe a duty to warn the public – via the government – of an issue as soon as they become aware of it in order to prevent further injury. Usually, this happens even before the firm decides to initiate a recall – or regardless of if they even do issue a recall.
Specifically, the law imposes the duty to report certain types of information immediately – within 24 hours – to be reported by manufacturers, distributors or retailers. That information includes knowledge that:
–A defective product could pose a serious risk of injury to consumers –Product creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death –Product doesn’t comply with applicable consumer product safety rules or any other regulation/standard/ban enforced by the CPSC –A child – regardless of age – has suffered serious injury or death or stopped breathing for any length of time or is treated by a medical professional as a result of choking on a marble, latex balloon, small ball or other small part in a gay or toy –Certain kinds of litigation
The CPSC has indicated these reports have to be made, even when the company isn’t done with its own report. The motto is, “When in doubt, report.” The law doesn’t require any harm needed to occur in order for a report to be filed. The goal is to give companies incentive to alert the public to potentially unsafe products.
In the case of the office chairs, 153 reports of failure pertaining to a model of chair known as the “Gibson” and another 33 pertaining to a model of chair known as the “Quantum.” Of those, there were a total of 39 injuries, with many of those necessitating medical attention.
The Quantum chairs retailed at $350 each, and the company sold about 150,000 of them over the course of three years. The Gibson chairs, meanwhile, retailed at $40 and 1.4 million were sold between 2003 and 2012.
Despite receiving report after report of personal injury suffered by those whose seat had collapsed, none of this was reported to the government until a recall was issued.
In addition to the multi-million dollar fine, the company is required to establish a compliance program to ensure it meets all of the guidelines set forth in the Consumer Product Safety Act. This program also has to address records retention issues, training, senior management oversight and confidential employee reporting of safety concerns.
Anyone who has suffered injury as a result of defective furniture or other products should contact an experienced Florida product liability attorney as soon as possible.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Office Depot Agrees to Pay $3.4 Million Civil Penalty, Implement Internal Compliance Program for Failure to Report Defective Office Chairs, May 27, 2015, Consumer Product Safety Commission Press Release
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U.S. Supreme Court to Rule on Accident Insurance Reimbursement Issue, April 20, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Defective Product Lawyer Blog