Consumer groups on Wednesday said it took a lawsuit to force Sears to fix millions of stoves that can tip over and crush children because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) failed to take meaningful action, according to Reuters.
The case highlighted the constraints on the safety agency and showed why Congress should act quickly to give it more clout to protect consumers, said watchdog groups Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.
"The commission has essentially done nothing to really alert the public," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, referring to the stoves.
Since 1980, at least 33 people have been killed and 84 injured in accidents involving unsecured stoves sold by all retailers, not just Sears Holdings Corp., the two groups said. The stoves can crush or burn children that tug on them, and can tip over when adults put heavy objects on open oven doors.
Sears agreed this year to settle a class-action lawsuit involving ranges it sold and installed between July 2, 2000, and Sept. 18, 2007. As part of the settlement, customers can receive a free installation of anti-tip devices or a $50 gift card toward the purchase of a new Sears range.
Sears spokeswoman Kimberly Freely said in a statement the parties dispute many of the aspects of the case, including the value of the settlement, which Public Citizen said could reach as high as $546 million.
The CPSC did not protect consumers from the hazardous stoves because existing agency regulations require a prolonged dialogue with manufacturers of hazardous products, the consumer groups said.
"Currently, CPSC must give companies 30 days notice, allowing them time to file suit to stop the CPSC from alerting the public about hazardous products. Essentially, it has to get the manufacturers' permission, which is absurd," Claybrook said.
Lawmakers need to end such loopholes and give the CPSC more authority in a consumer product safety reform bill now moving through Congress, she said.