Consumer Worry About Product Safety Growing
EAGAN, Minn. - Consumers' worries over product safety are growing, according to an analysis by a major legal information services provider, and consumers are increasingly expressing those concerns in the form of lawsuits.
Following recent publicity surrounding recalls of consumer products, including children's toys containing lead paint, beef and other foods contaminated with E. coli bacteria and children's cold medicine with improper dosage markings, Americans are increasingly concerned about product safety.
In a survey of 1,000 American adults, with results accurate to plus-or-minus three percent, Thomson West research found:
-- 61 percent of Americans are worried or very worried about product safety
-- 55 percent of Americans say they are more worried today about product safety than they were a year ago
-- 73 percent of Americans have owned a recalled product:
-- Automobiles - 42 percent
-- Food - 27 percent
-- Toys - 15 percent
-- Home appliances - 9 percent
-- Infant products - 9 percent
-- Medicine - 7 percent
-- What did you do with the recalled product(s)?
-- Returned the product to the manufacturer or store for repair, replacement or refund - 65 percent
-- Discarded the product - 35 percent
-- Kept the product but stopped using it - 5 percent
-- Nothing - kept the product and continued using it - 8 percent
Meanwhile, research shows that product liability lawsuits filed in federal courts have been rising steadily, more than doubling in the last five years. Cases filed reached a new high in 2006 with 28,274 cases filed in federal courts. Pharmaceutical companies accounted for nearly half (47 percent) of product liability lawsuits filed against businesses in federal courts since 2002, followed by industrial manufacturing (14.5 percent), health care (5 percent), chemicals (5 percent), construction (4 percent) and retail (4 percent).
Michael Brown, former executive director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and currently a principal at Brown & Gidding, P.C., believes heightened consumer concerns about product safety may be a result of greater consumer awareness, rather than a greater number of unsafe products. "We generally have safer consumer products than we did twenty years ago," said Brown. "But thanks to the Internet and other forms of communications, we have greater awareness among consumers when safety violations occur."
Brown, however, has concerns about the increasing globalization of product manufacturing and the ability of government and corporations to monitor product safety. "The Consumer Product Safety Commission is woefully depleted, and needs additional staff and training to address these concerns," said Brown. "At the same time, many of the large multinational companies that have been involved in these high-profile product recalls had safety standards and policies in place, but assumed that suppliers and contract manufacturers halfway around the globe had the same understanding to adhere to those standards in order to ensure safe products."