Failure to Report Defective Lawnmowers Results in $1.6 Million Civil Penalty

lawnmower11.jpgMany homeowners have either gas- or electric-powered lawn mowers. They are relatively easy to use, and often adolescents and even children are tasked with the chore of mowing.

But these are powerful machines, and they have the potential to cause serious and potentially fatal injuries. To put it into perspective, the blades on a mower produce three times the kinetic energy of a .357 handgun. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 235,000 adults and 17,000 children are injured annually by lawn mowers. Most of those injured are boys. The most common injuries include cuts, burns, fractures, and amputations.

Given the potential dangers, one would think designers and manufacturers of lawn mowers would be especially careful to ensure their products are safe when used as intended, or that when issues arise, the public would be warned immediately.

Consumers rightfully expect this. Unfortunately, it was revealed by the CPSC that a large brand manufacturer violated federal requirements by creating a defective and dangerous lawn mower and by failing to warn the public about it.

According to a recent press release, Black & Decker Inc. has been ordered by the federal government to pay $1.575 million for producing defective lawn mowers and for failing to report this fact. In addition to the civil penalty, the company will also have to establish and maintain an internal compliance program.

The penalty is just $250,000 less than the maximum penalty the firm could have received for its alleged actions. It’s somewhat surprising that the federal agency even allowed that reduction, given this is the fifth time this company has been fined for failing to report safety defects since 1986. This is the biggest penalty the firm has ever had to pay, but it’s still disconcerting that the full penalty wasn’t imposed, given the company’s track record on defective products.

The latest case involved a line of electronic lawn mowers that reportedly started spontaneously. These models were also known to continue running even after the user let go of the handles and took out the safety keys.

Companies by law must report such dangers to the CPSC in a “timely manner.” In this case, the agency said, that would be about 24 hours. It would not mean months or years, as has historically been the case with this company.

These cordless mowers were sold under both the Black & Decker brand name and the Craftsman brand name between 1995 and 2006. Evidence has emerged that the company was aware of these dangers going back as far as 1998, when the complaints started rolling in.

By federal statute, manufacturers of walk-behind lawn mowers have to make sure the blade stops immediately after the user lets go of the handle. That was not the case with these mowers.

Then, beginning in 2003, the company started receiving complaints from consumers that the mowers were restarting spontaneously, even after the key was taken out.

And these were not a few isolated incidents. There were reportedly more than 100 complaints made to the company during that time, several of those resulting in injury. Most of these involved cuts to the hand. In one case, after the consumer suffered a wound to his hand from the mower and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment, the mower continued to run for hours.

In 2004, the company hired an expert to look into the issue. That individual located the problem causing the defect. But even with this knowledge, the company didn’t report it to federal authorities until five years later. And it was only the year after that the company agreed to pull these products from the market in a formal recall.

The Ferraro Law Firm handles claims resulting from defective medical products or dangerous pharmaceuticals. Call 1-800-275-3332 for a free and confidential consultation. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.

Additional Resources:
Black & Decker Agrees to $1.575 Million Civil Penalty, Internal Compliance Program, for Failure to Report Defective Lawnmowers, April 29, 2015, Consumer Product Safety Commission

More Blog Entries:
CPSC: New Federal Standard for Child Carrier Safety, April 10, 2015, Product Liability Lawyer Blog

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