Consumer Recalls: What to Know and How to Handle a Hazardous Product
By Adam J. Langino, Esq.
The features typically considered by consumers when choosing a product include quality, pricing, novelty, functionality, and brand reputation. What happens when the carefully selected (or hastily purchased) item has hidden faults that can bring unexpected dangers into your home? Consumer product recalls involve the manufacturer’s efforts to retrieve defective and/or potentially unsafe products, while providing compensation to consumers. In some cases, the recall may be voluntary when the manufacturer or seller has been made aware of defects. However, when defects pose a danger to consumers, a recall may be mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in the U.S. This article aims to help you understand what it means when a product has been recalled, how to report an unsafe product, what kinds of risks are likely to lead to a recall, and how to respond and/or recover for damages if you have been the victim of a dangerous recalled product.
How are faulty products regulated?
If a product is available to consumers, it should be safe and free of significant defects. However, more consumers are using social media to complain about products, and the media has drawn attention to several high-profile product recalls in recent years. Consumers have become increasingly aware of the hazards products may pose, but many don’t know where to find safety alerts, information on product recalls, and practical steps for how to respond to product recalls.
Consumer protection laws are in place to protect individuals and their families from hidden dangers in defective products. The CPSC is the U.S. agency tasked with issuing and enforcing mandatory standards and recalling or banning consumer products when necessary. Manufacturers owe a duty to look for potential defects, but their recalls are often done at the direction of the CPSC and not voluntarily.
Typically, it takes a large number of affected customers to trigger a recall, and sometimes the manufacturer only recalls a product after an injury-causing accident occurs. A product recall is a manufacturer’s request to return a product after a safety issue, labeling error, or dangerous defect has been discovered. Customers are typically given a refund, a repair, or a replacement, and in extreme cases, the recall will result in an outright ban of the item. With particularly serious defects, customers and customer bases are identified and contacted to discontinue use and minimize potential harm. You may learn about a recall through the mail or press releases directing you to contact a toll-free number to learn more about the recall.
The CPSC also offers www.SafeProducts.gov as a venue for consumers to report unsafe products or to search for unsafe products that may have already been recalled.
You can search specific products by name if you have concerns, scroll through products based on category, hazard type, and time of recall, and you can even choose to receive email notifications of product recalls as they are made available by CPSC.
What are the dangers most likely to lead to a recall?
There are many reasons a product may be recalled. Some of the most common issues that lead to recalls include choking hazards without warning, improper child-proofing, flammable products (not to acceptable standards), and laceration hazards. Of the recalls from 2023, those affecting the largest number of consumers include the following:
4.7 million units of Fisher Price Rock n’ Play Sleepers were recalled (re-announced the recall since the original in 2019) after infant fatalities have occurred. Similarly, Kids2 recalled models of its Rocking Sleepers for infant fatalities where infants rolled from back to stomach or side while unrestrained (around 700,000 recalled).
Epoch Everlasting Play recalled 3.2 million Calico Critters Animal Figures and Sets because the bottle and pacifier accessories posed a choking hazard. Around 473,000 units of Silver Lining Cloud Activity Gyms were recalled by Skip Hop because of choking hazards, too.
4.2 million Nurtec ODT orally disintegrating tablets were recalled by Pfizer because the prescription drug packaging was not child-resistant and posed a poisoning hazard for children.
YETI recalled soft coolers and gear cases because magnet-lined closures can fail and result in detached magnets. Since that could pose a risk of serious injury or death, about 1.9 million units were recalled.
Target recalled Threshold Glass Jar Candles several times this year, totaling over 7 million in recalls due to the potential to cause lacerations and burns when the jar overheats and cracks or breaks during use. The remedy is to stop using the candles and return them to Target (in person or through the mail) for a full refund. Walmart also recalled candles this year. More than 1.2 million Mainstays Three-Wick Candles by Star Soap Star Candle Prayer Candle were recalled because the wicks burned too close to the side of the container and caused the glass to break. This posed a risk of fire and laceration to consumers. Consumers were advised to contact the manufacturer rather than Walmart for a refund.
One of the larger recalls this year – including about 7.5 million units – was the Robo Alive Junior Baby Shark Sing & Swim Bath Toys and mini-baby shark bath toys by Zuru. It was discovered that a child could slip and fall or sit on the hard plastic top fin of the shark, which could lead to impalement, lacerations, and punctures.
Electric skateboards, hoverboards, and one-wheels have posed various risks in recent years. This year, Future Motion recalled the Onewheel Self-Balancing Electric Skateboard for crash hazards after four deaths were reported. The skateboards were found to stop balancing the rider if the board’s limits were exceeded. In addition to recalling the dangerous Onewheel and directing consumers to stop using it immediately, consumers were also advised to download or update the Onewheel app and use it to update firmware on certain boards to include the Haptic Buzz alert functionality. This would provide a tactile and audible warning system for the rider when nearing the board's limits or when in low battery or error states. Though only about 400,000 units were recalled, more consumers were affected because of the need for other Onewheel products to receive the firmware update to minimize potential crash hazards.
Peloton recalled around 2.2 million exercise bikes due to fall and injury hazards after the bike’s seat post assembly was found to break during use. Consumers were told to stop using the recalled bikes and contact for free repair, and Peloton offered a free seat post that could be self-installed.
Ironically, Colgate-Palmolive’s Fabuloso Multi-Purpose Cleaners had to be recalled due to risk of exposure to bacteria from the product itself. The products were found to contain Pseudomonas species bacteria that could cause serious infection for those with weakened immune systems if inhaled or absorbed through the eyes, or through a break in the skin. Refunds and full replacements by the manufacturer were offered, and consumers were directed to dispose of the product in its container. About 4.9 million units were recalled in the U.S.
Finally, the biggest recall of the year was for Candy Dynamics Slime Licker Sour Rolling Liquid Candies due to choking hazards. Over 70 million were recalled because the candy’s rolling ball could detach from the product’s container in a child’s mouth and choke them. Consumers were directed to stop using them and take them away from children immediately, and Candy Dynamics would fully refund the product if it was not empty of liquid candy or fully consumed.
What should you do if you purchase a dangerous product?
If you purchased a recalled product, even if you have no personal damage, you should be entitled to a refund or replacement. If you receive a recall notice but continue using a product after a recall and then suffer an injury, the manufacturer will likely argue “assumption of risk” as a defense, limiting your entitlement to compensation for injury. If a product you purchased has injured you, the CPSC should be your first resource to determine whether the product carried a known risk. You can clarify what your recovery will be by searching the CPSC website. However, if you or a loved one were harmed due to a faulty product before it was recalled, the first step is to report the product to the CPSC. Also, make sure to set aside the product in a safe place. If you destroy or return your product, then you may lose your ability to prove your claim. After reporting the harm from the faulty product, an attorney can help you understand whether you can recover based on the damages from the product. In most states, if a defect has been established, you should only need to prove that the defect caused an injury to recover compensation.
I am sorry if you are reading this because you or a loved one was injured from a hazardous product. Over my career, I have successfully resolved many product liability claims, and I am licensed to practice law in Florida and North Carolina and co-counsel claims in other states. If you want to learn more about me or my practice, click here. If you want to request a free consultation, click here. As always, stay safe and stay well.