2016 saw “the largest number of children’s product recalls in more than a decade,” according to the Chicago Tribune and a report published earlier this month by the non-profit watchdog group Kids in Danger.
The unusually high total was driven by two especially high-profile recalls: IKEA’s withdrawal of its Malm collection dressers and chests of drawers (click here for the blog I wrote on the subject after a $50 million settlement in the case was announced late last year) and McDonald’s move to recall millions of activity watches after the wristbands were found to cause skin irritations. The Tribune reports that each of these incidents accounted for around 29 million units out of a total of nearly 67 million units of children’s products pulled off the market in 2016.
The executive director of Kids in Danger, speaking to the newspaper, summarized the problem succinctly: “This is not a regulatory problem,” she said. “This is a problem with companies not acting quickly enough to take what is a dangerous product out of use.” The IKEA case is a particularly striking example because the now-recalled dressers had been on the market for many years. One death linked to them took place in 1989.
According to the Kids in Danger report there were a total of 76 children’s product recalls in 2016. Aside from the IKEA furniture and McDonald’s watches other major recalls included sippy cups that were prone to develop mold even with regular and careful cleaning, and a line of strollers that had a tendency to lose their wheels. The organization notes that during last year “incidents, injuries and deaths rose sharply with a total of 4842 incidents, 394 injuries and seven deaths reported before recalls issued in 2016.” Nursery products alone accounted for 32% of all children’s product recalls.
Here in Oregon state law is straightforward when it comes to unsafe products. ORS 30.900 (“Product Liability Civil Action”) states that liability can arise both from any “design, inspection, testing, manufacturing or other defect in a product” or – even more crucially – from “any failure to warn regarding a product.”
This goes back to the point made by Kids in Danger that the most important issue in preventing significant injuries to children involves companies and their distributors being more responsible. Companies have a moral as well as a legal responsibility to do everything they reasonably can to make sure that unsafe products do not make it to the market in the first place and that when they do they are withdrawn quickly and effectively. Ominously, Kids in Danger also notes that “required recall effectiveness data” is scant with proper reports available on only 37% of all children’s product recalls.
As a Portland attorney with a practice focusing on injuries to children I have long had a professional interest in unsafe products. At its heart this is not, as Kids in Danger notes, a regulatory issue. Yet if children are to receive the protections they deserve it is also clear that government and our judicial system both have an essential role to play. If the only way to ensure that manufacturers do the right thing – and do it in a timely manner – is to hold them accountable in court, then we should always be careful never to give up our rights to do so.
Oregon State Bar: Liability for Defective Products
ORS 30.900: Product Liability in Civil Action