The mere mention of a product recall brings visions of unsafe products, or items that are sure to cause harm to us if we keep using them. While that certainly can be true—safety concerns are a large reason that recalls are issued—recalls are ultimately a good thing, making sure that dangerous products are returned, not sold, or allowing consumers to return items for needed repairs free of charge.
Recalls can be Confusing
You would think that there would be one major clearinghouse where you could check every item in your house to see if it has been recalled. Although numerous federal agencies have oversight over recalls, there is actually no single body that has responsibility for all of them, leaving consumers to search various government agencies, or at least, look up products online to see if a recall has been issued.
Making matters more confusing, recalls can be made that require the owner to bring the item in for repairs (usually this is the case with cars), or requiring the consumer to bring the item back to the store for a refund (usually with smaller priced items, like food products).
To show how confusing recalls can be, let’s consider food. We tend to think that food is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it is. That is, unless there is a problem with meat or poultry, which is also considered food, but which is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
So, that pre-packaged frozen sandwich from the same company can be regulated by the FDA if it is a mushroom veggie sandwich, but the version that has ham inside of it would have its recalls issued by the USDA.
Food products get recalled when they are either bad or defective—think of all the salmonella recalls that we hear about in the news. They can also be recalled when they are mis-branded or mis-labeled, for example, if something were labelled as “dairy free,” when it turns out it actually has milk in it.
People with allergies to certain foods can suffer serious problems when an ingredient is excluded or mis-labeled. Even those who do not have health issues but who choose to eat a certain diet, for example, vegans, or those who eat carbohydrate free, should not be left to ingest an ingredient that is not listed on the label.
Seriousness Levels in Food Recalls
In order to differentiate between seriousness, the USDA divides recalls by class, with Class I being the most serious risk, to Class III, which may be for something that is mis-labeled but not especially dangerous.
Most government agencies have the power to demand a recall, but they often will not or cannot unless a specific problem can be found. So, if a food product is getting people sick but nobody can figure out why, the best a government agency can do is issue a warning.
Additionally, if a product has a problem not related to the production or labeling of the food itself—say for example, the packaging company is accidentally inserting foreign bodies into packaged food, but the food itself is otherwise safe—the FDA may not get involved.
The companies themselves can and often do voluntarily recall a product in that situation. But sometimes, in an effort to maximize profit, if a specific cause cannot be found and the illnesses that are occurring are not widespread, the company will choose to keep the item on the shelves.
Cars are a huge recall topic. From airbags to rollover risks to transmission problems, vehicle recalls often make the nightly news.
Car recalls are not issued for just any problem. Things that are considered irritants, such as bad paint, or materials that deteriorate, or bad air conditioners will not result in a recall. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not care about consumers getting ripped off by substandard cars (although other legal remedies may be available for those items), it cares about safety issues.
A recall will be issued for a safety concern that happens to a large number of consumers, or for problems that occur to a small number if the safety concern is serious and life threatening enough.
The NHTSA can compel a car maker to issue a recall for very serious issues. Car makers can also voluntarily recall their products, even without the NHTSA and even without telling them. Many do just that, to avoid the government intervention and PR problems that come with the government looking into a safety recall, or going to court to obtain one.
Toys and Other Products
For everything else, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) usually comes into play. Toys are a huge area where the CPSC gets involved in safety. Because the CPSC regulates such a wide variety of consumer products, the reasons for recall can be enormous.
Recalls for consumer products like toys can be because of potential risks—for example, something may be toxic, or may be ingested by small children—or because of actual risks—for example, a product has already caused skin rashes or squashed small fingers.
Unlike with cars, where manufacturers do not have to report recalls if they choose to issue them voluntarily, the CPSC requires manufacturers to report them. That is only if they present real safety risks, where the product is in violation with a CPSC rule, or where a child chokes on a product or part of a product.
A Consumer’s Responsibility
Consumers do not have a legal obligation to take products in for recall repairs, but if you are injured due to a defective product that has been recalled, the first defense that will be used against you is your failure to get the item replaced and repaired. Thus, you should be alert to recalls, and act quickly to get rid of, replace or repair the recalled item.
It can be difficult to know if a product that injures you is defective. Our firm has experience holding manufacturers responsible for selling dangerous products. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation if you are injured by a malfunctioning or defective product.