The launch of www.saferproduct.gov by the Consumer Product Safety Commission is stirring up concern.The CPSC will allow consumers to report product-related complaints publicly without publishing their names or contact information. The database will be launched on March 11, 2011.
"Manufacturers are concerned that the information published will be given credibility of a government sanctioned database, when the reported information is not verified," explains Erika J. Schoenberger, a product liability attorney at Frost Brown Todd. "At worst, reports might be fictitious and at best, are likely to be incomplete. The CPSC will only redact consumer information that is materially inaccurate or includes trade secrets. If any unverified information is used at trial, we believe it will materially damage manufacturers defending their products."
For the first time, the plaintiff's bar will have a centralized, government source of claims that once published, becomes a permanent mark against a company whether or not it is eventually unfounded, Schoenberger said.
For example, the definition of "consumer" is so broad as to include those who were not injured and those who do not even have firsthand information about an incident. It also allows "others" to submit complaints. Others could include those with an agenda like the plaintiff's bar, investigators, non-government organizations, consumer advocates and competitors. Further, consumers can make reports anonymously, making verification of any report impossible.
Manufacturers are given ten days from the date of notification to challenge materially inaccurate information or trade secret information before the information is published. Manufacturers can provide comments that will be published with the consumer reports at any time."We advise our clients that manufacture, import, or privately label consumer goods to go to www.saferproducts.gov and register as soon as possible. Registering will enable the CPSC to communicate with a company about any consumer reports filed on its products," says Schoenberger.