- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2010

The Consumer Product Safety Commission finalized a new rule Nov. 24 that abandons both consumers and safety. Trial lawyers and unscrupulous business competitors, though, made out like bandits. American manufacturers and tradesmen are the ones left with empty pockets.

As part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, Congress mandated creation of a “Publicly Available Consumer Product Safety Information Database.” The new website would allow consumers with specific complaints about a particular product’s safety to report the problem in a public forum long before any official decision to recall the product. The purpose is to provide a sort of early warning system to avoid dangerous or even deadly defects. This database is projected to cost $29 million to create and operate, for starters.

The CPSC is controlled 3-2 by nanny-state leftists. The result has been a series of rulings that have done more to punish profitable businesses than protect consumers from honest-to-goodness risks. With this new government information database, the commission’s majority didn’t create a useful safety information tool but instead have fashioned an anonymous smear sheet requiring neither specificity nor accuracy nor fairness. Anybody who wants to trash a product, for whatever reason, can do so. The commission can leave a complaint on the database indefinitely without investigating its merits “even if a manufacturer has already provided evidence the claim is inaccurate,” as noted by Carter Wood of the National Association of Manufacturers’ “Shopfloor” blog.

Commissioners Nancy Nord and Anne Northup tried to insert some common sense into the proceedings but were shot down by commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. As Mrs. Nord explained, “under the majority’s approach, the database will not differentiate between complaints entered by lawyers, competitors, labor unions and advocacy groups who may have their own reasons to ‘salt’ the database, from those of actual consumers with firsthand experience with a product.”

Trial lawyers pushing class-action suits could gin up hundreds of anonymous complaints, then point the jurors to those complaints at the “official” CPSC website as a way to feign the legitimacy of their theories that a product in question caused vast harm. “The agency does not appear to be concerned about fairness and does not care that unfounded complaints could damage the reputation of a company,” said Mrs. Nord. “The majority approach [on this and related rules] has imposed unnecessary costs on consumers, has limited their choices, has shut down businesses and has forced safe products off the market.”

A coalition of 42 trade organizations - ranging from the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Childrenswear to the Craft and Hobby Association to the National Retail Federation - wrote a letter in July complaining about the rule when it was in draft form. They said it encourages the “mischief” of “using the CPSC database as a weapon.” This weapon is unsafe for the American economy.