CPSC Erratabase and the Interests of Trial Lawyers

By March 2, 2011Regulations

It appears the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s product safety complaint database could actually kick into operation this month, inviting attacks against manufacturers and confusion for consumers encountering false reports.

The two-week spending resolution passed by the U.S. House on Tuesday, H.J. Res. 44, omits the many amendments to block funding for Executive Branch programs previously approved in H.R 1, the 2011 continuing appropriations bill. That means that the amendment sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) to block funding for the CPSC database until Congress further examines it  — which the House approved by a vote of 234-187 — will not go into effect before the database does on March 11.

A Washington Times editorial today identified the dangers behind the potential manipulation of the database and who stands to benefit. From “Leash law for lawyers“:

On March 11, the CPSC is set to launch a new online database publishing thousands of outside complaints about allegedly unsafe products. These attacks would be publicized before any investigation and without independent evidence that complaints are legitimate. It’s an open invitation for competitors or interest groups to destroy a product’s reputation – and sales – without proof. It’s also a major come-on to trial lawyers eager to file class-action suits. Attorneys could tell juries that publication on an official government website is evidence that allegations have weight.

Even without this new database, it’s too easy to force products off the market. Previous bogus consumer scares – such as worries about the chemical Alar on apples and the purportedly cancer-causing properties of silicone breast implants – show the dangers of letting unsubstantiated allegations gain premature credibility. The CPSC database would add to the mischief trial lawyers could cause with spurious lawsuits.

Rep. Pompeo’s CPSC funding amendment fits well with the 112th Congress’ priority of job creation. It should be obvious that manufacturers under attack by trial lawyers exploiting bogus product complaints are less likely to hire new employees.

Rep. Pompeo’s floor statement and the House debate on the amendment are here. For the National Association of Manfacturers’ further views on the database, see this post.


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