Who’s Responsible for the Dismal Recall Rate of Kids' Products?

If you're a parent, you know what it's like to worry constantly about another person, especially when it's your own flesh and blood, defenseless in the face of the world's many dangers. When they're little, you think they're always at risk of falling out of bed, drowning in the tub, or swallowing something that they shouldn't, but the worries don't stop with age – they just evolve.

As they get older, instead of falling out of bed, you're afraid of them falling in with the wrong crowd. Drowning in the tub is replaced with getting into a car accident when they're out with their friends. And you still worry about them swallowing something they shouldn't, but instead of fearing peanuts, you wring your hands over drugs and alcohol and hope you've taught them how to make smart choices.

But what if you don't have enough information to make a smart choice? What if there's something in your life right now that is hurting your child, but you have noclue? Questions like these are exactly why product recalls exist, but many people are asking whether enough is being done at the moment to ensure that defects and recalls are well-publicized, so that the products in question can be taken out of circulation before they cause harm. It certainly seems like more needs to be donesince, according to a KID report, the response rate for child product safety recalls is a pathetically low 10 percent.

Is 10 Percent Really as Bad as It Seems?

On its face, this may seem like an odd question - 10 percent is 10 percent.And even though we know for a fact that statistics can be manipulated, no matter how you look at these numbers,it means that 90 percent of defective kids' items aren't being returned.

Naturally, it's not that simple. According to Julie Vallese, a former employee of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and currently a spokesperson for the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association, people don't return recalled items for a number of different reasons. Some might have stopped using the product or thrown it away, for example; others don't even know returning them is a possibility. Even if some of the products in that 90 percent are out of use and effectively "safe," there's bound to be a huge number that aren't.

Only Minimal Publicity Is Required for Recalls

One of the biggest complaints aimed at companies, consumer groups, and federal agencies is that the publicity for recalls is absolutely abysmal. What exactly is required? Not much. The only publicity the law demands is that companies distribute a joint press release with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and post the information on their website. That is, of course, if they actually have a website. In case they don't, the press release will do.

Now, there are many companies out there that do far more than that, but it's shameful we don't have laws in place to require businesses to get the word out in a bigger way. In a perfect world, news agencies would be required to make recalls headline stories and front page information, but that's just not going to happen. It would also be nice if companies were forced to pay for ad time to announce recalls, but the chances of that are even slimmer.

Still, there are plenty of low-cost and even free methods for companies to communicate with the public – the problem is they just aren't doing it. Most don't even take advantage of social media to announce recalls and educate their customers about such incidents -a policy every single business should adopt. Imagine how quickly you'd find out about a recall if a company tweeted about it or posted on Facebook. Sure, someone would need to be paid to handle the deluge of responses they'd surely get, but as long as they would be able to promptly respond to customers, the goodwill they would engender would be well worth it.

Obviously, we can't just blame the companies and the regulatory agencies for the current state of affairs. Parents have a responsibility, too.

Parents Still Need to Pay More Attention

Quick question: When is the last time you actually filled out a registration card for a product and turned it into the company you bought it from? Most of us probably don't even remember because it's just not something we do - unless there is a particular incentive to do so – but we definitely should.

Why? Because companies don't use that information just to send you advertisements. If you fill out a registration card for a product and there's ever a recall, that means that your information is in a database, and the company has a way to contact you about it directly and warn you of potential problems with the product. Not all of them do this, but enough make the effort, which justifies your effort to fill out and send the document.

Beyond this, parents need to learn what "recall" really means and discover what they have to do if they ever have to deal with a defective product. Sites like KidsinDanger.org offer a wealth of information on recalls and even tell parents where to look to stay up-to-date on the latest defective product news. None of this extra work is something parents would look forward to, since many of them already have a full-time job on top of the full time-work of raising a child, but until current laws change, it's the best way to keep children as safe as possible.

We're Not All Accountable, but We're All Responsible

In order to protect children in our country, we all need to be doing more. Parents, more than others, have a vested interest in keeping their kids safe. Companies and even federal regulators are only really incentivized in a statistical way - they have to balance safety issues with financial returns and the desire for companies to continue doing business here.

Unfortunately, right now the balance is skewed so far in the companies' favor, that parents who want real change are going to have to lobby lawmakers to do more – not only in terms of publicizing recalls to increase the return rate, but also lower the number of complaints that have to be filed before a product is recalled. Until then, parents need to remain vigilant and remember that they can always try to hold companies accountable in a court of law if a product does bring about harm.

About the Author:

Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida "SuperLawyer"—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend's "Legal Elite."

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