Product recalls are constantly in the news these days. Last month four car companies, Toyota, BMW, Subaru and Mazda, settled a class action covering nearly 16 million vehicles that plaintiffs claimed contained defective Takata airbags. The settlement didn’t even address the multitude of personal injury and property damage claims (those are being handled in other litigation); rather it involved the residual consumer damages such as rental car reimbursement. This highlights the many facets of consumer safety efforts and the roads to redress for consumers whether they suffer residual losses, property damage or personal injury.
In 2015 the U.S. automobile industry logged a record number of product recalls, nearly 900, affecting 51.26 million vehicles according to the national Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some tout this as emblematic of stellar product safety efforts and tip their hats to regulators and manufacturers alike. I’m not quite as quick to reach for the brim.
While I know the system is not perfect, I would advocate for proactive measures in the manufacturing and quality control inspection process so that fewer defective products get to market resulting in less injuries and fewer lawsuits. As the airbag class action demonstrates with the settlement involving the set up of an outreach program for the recalls, product recalls do not always result in substantial remediation of the problem. Consumers may not get the proper notification and/or the hardship in undergoing the repair necessitated by the recall disincentivizes them to get the repair. So defective cars stay on the road, defective products remain in the stream of commerce, and consumers remain at risk.
As a consumer, what can you do to reduce your own risk? First, register the products that you purchase with the manufacturer. Pay attention to the notices you receive regarding the product, follow-up on any notices and follow instructions for recall or return of the product. If you see something in the news about a specific product and you suspect you own it, then check it out. If you do have the product, visit the company website or call or email them for instructions and follow them. The manufacturer should provide you with a replacement or some form of compensation, if not then ask for it.
If you are injured when using a product, i.e. a motor vehicle, tool, or even food, don’t dismiss the possibility that the product is defective. Retain the product or at least photo or video evidence of it and contact an attorney as soon as possible. Our role as attorneys is to demand better products and safety measures and be vigilant when it comes to making companies accountable for the safety of their products.