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  • Inside Track
    April 06, 2016

    Legal Research: Exploding Airbags and Undeclared Allergens – Locating Resources for Vehicle and Consumer Product Recalls

    Don Mac Gregor

    Dealing with shrapnel-shooting airbags, faulty ignition switches, or unsafe child car seats? You can find a wealth of information about vehicle and consumer product recalls on federal regulatory websites.

    dash lightsApril 6, 2016 – Sticky accelerators, shrapnel-shooting air bags, lights that start on fire, undeclared allergens, and salmonella and listeria contamination have one thing in common: all of these issues prompt vehicle and consumer product recalls.

    New recalls occur each and every day. But what’s the best way to find out about them?

    A Starting Point: Recalls.gov

    A good starting point for your research is Recalls.gov. This is a central site for finding recalls from not only the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the National Highway Safety Administration, but also the Food and Drug Administration (medicine, medical devices, cosmetics, and food safety issues), United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

    But not all information can be found on Recalls.gov. Unfortunately for consumers and researchers, there really is not a one-stop resource for all recall information. While companies post recall information on their websites about product recalls, and retailers such as CVS will post in-store notices, there is a wealth of information available through federal regulatory sites.

    This article also highlights where to find consumer product recalls. However, since there has been much publicity about shrapnel shooting airbags, faulty ignition switches, and the emission of diesel engine cars, let’s start with vehicle recalls.

    Exploding Airbags and Faulty Ignition Switches: Vehicle Recall Resources

    You may remember the publicity over exploding airbags made by Takata. Perhaps you had, or will have to take your vehicle in to have the airbags replaced. (To read about the air bag recalls, scroll down to the May 19 entry on safercar.gov). In 2015, approximately 19 million cars needed retrofitting to replace defective Takata airbags.

    Don Mac GregorDon Mac Gregor is a librarian at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory Solutions U.S., Chicago. He is studying to become a paralegal in the post-baccalaureate Paralegal Studies Program at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

    The primary source for automobile and automobile-related items such as airbags, tires, and child seats is the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2015, there were almost 900 recalls affecting 51 million vehicles nationwide. In 2014, 803 recall notices resulted in 63,900,000 vehicle recalls. The NHTSA website lists this and other 2014 statistics.

    If you have registered your vehicle with your manufacturer, and there is a recall notice, you will be informed by mail. If you haven’t, you’ll have to be proactive about making sure your car is without defects. One way is to sign up for email notices from NHTSA. Notices are emailed out at least once a week. If there is news about the recall of your make of vehicle, check your vehicle identification number (VIN) on your car’s windshield, or registration card, and then go to the VIN lookup at safercar.gov.

    Automobile companies also provide links to recall information, such as General Motors VIN lookup. For example, GM’s website lists vehicles affected by the ignition switch problem – and on safercar.gov you can find that the problem was extra weight on the key ring while the car is in use.

    Volkswagen’s VIN lookup page is fairly easy to find, if you’re willing to scroll down to the bottom of the page. You can also find out more about the issues with Volkswagen’s diesel cars on its website.

    Other automakers, such as Ford, will release information on recall campaigns through a separate media release page. Ford also has a VIN lookup page.

    Chrysler, now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobile has a VIN lookup page and announces recalls on its media release page.

    Dangerous Magnets and Unstable Chairs: Resources for Consumer Product Safety Recalls

    Some consumer products, such as infant car seats, are regulated by both the NHTSA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). This means that a recall announcement may appear on both the NHTSA and CPSC sites. For example, a two-agency recall announcement involving a child safety seat can be seen on the NHTSA site and the CPSC site.

    The safety of most consumer products falls under the jurisdiction of the CPSC. Information on reporting an unsafe product can be found at SaferProducts.gov.

    The CPSC posts recall notices on its website. There you can also find a list of adjudicative proceedings of cases where the CPSC has brought legal action to seek a mandatory recall. For example, the CPSC brought a suit against Zen Magnets in 2012, saying that the magnets violated the toy standard and create a substantial risk of injury to consumers.

    While manufacturers and stores such as Pier One Imports announce product recalls on their sites (see the link at the bottom of their home page), or post notices in stores, they are obligated under Section 15 (b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act to report defects to the CPSC.

    Patience and Persistence Yield Lots of Results

    Although the Recalls.gov site is a useful starting point, remember that there is no single government agency that regulates and monitors consumer product quality. It helps if you know which agency regulates the product you’re investigating. You can try hunting through the retailer’s or product manufacturer’s website, but if that doesn’t work, turn to the Federal agencies.




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