As consumers, we place a certain amount of faith in our institutions. When we go to the grocery store, we trust that the food we’re buying is safe to eat. When we buy cars, we expect that the vehicle will meet certain standards. Medical devices, toys for our children, cell phones – we assume that if these products are available for purchase, they are also safe.
However, harmful or defective products regularly make it into the hands of consumers, and they can sometimes cause very serious illness and injury. How is it possible that commonly purchased goods carry the potential to cause us harm? Consumer product-related injuries are often the result of institutional failings, on the part of manufacturers, government agencies, or both.
The Evolution of Consumer Protection
Strengthening consumer protections in the United States has been an ongoing process. Typically, legislation that increases consumer safety is enacted in response to specific safety concerns. For example, health violations in the meat-packing industry became a major concern after Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” was released in 1906. In response, the Federal Meat Inspection Act was passed in 1907, as were the agencies that would eventually become the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
Today, there are several government institutions that contribute to consumer safety and product safety, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the FDA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These agencies monitor products and businesses and inform consumers when these products pose a safety threat.
A Complicated System – And a Lack of Oversight
Despite the number of institutions dedicated to consumer protection, dangerous products often make it onto the market before defects are discovered, reported, and recalled. The supply chain of most goods sold in the United States is very complex. One product might be designed in the United States, manufactured in several countries, imported, transported, and distributed at several stores. This complex system, combined with the fact that so many products are sold and purchased every day, leaves room for error and, thus, consumer injury.
The institutions charged with overseeing product safety don’t have the resources to inspect every item sold to consumers. To ensure that businesses can sell products and regulators can keep track of these products, certain “shortcuts” are built into the system. For example, medical device manufacturers can fast-track their products for clearance by the FDA if they prove that the device is “substantially equivalent” to a product that has already been approved.
In the case of the NHTSA, a federal audit released in 2015 found several systemic problems about the ability of the agency to protect consumers. Among the problems listed in the report were insufficient processes for collecting data, under-trained staff, and weak management. Up to 90% of complaints the NHTSA receives every day are reportedly set aside.
Given the limitations of agencies that oversee products, manufacturers in the United States are generally responsible for policing themselves. Not surprisingly, the shortcomings of manufacturers and overseers leave consumers in danger of hazardous products.
Consumer Faith in Institutions Has Fallen
It’s easy to see why Americans don’t place much trust in the ability of our government to protect their interests. A Consumer Report survey in 2017 found that 65% of consumers don’t believe our agencies are up to the task. It’s not just the government that gets low grades from Americans. A Gallup poll in June of 2017 found that only 21% of people surveyed had confidence in big business.
These numbers suggest that people are very aware of the fact that our current system fails to adequately protect consumers from harm. It’s important for consumers to know that speaking out about harmful products is our best way to ensure that others don’t suffer from the mistakes and negligence of businesses and government agencies.
How to Report Dangerous Products
The more vocal consumers are about harmful products, the more attention they will get from agencies and manufacturers. Here are a few resources to help you find out where you should file complaints:
- The FDA fields complaints about prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical devices, food, and cosmetics, in addition to other types of products. To see where you can file a non-emergency complaint with the FDA, visit this page.
- The NHTSA fields complaints about vehicle safety. In some cases, complaints can lead to investigations and recalls. Visit their complaints page here.
- The CPSC accepts complaints regarding dangerous products. Visit this page to file a complaint.
- Consumer Reports is a nonprofit organization that rates and reviews products. You can also report problems with products through their website.
Filing complaints about dangerous products is vital to improving consumer safety. However, as we’ve seen, sometimes complaints alone aren’t enough to stop the sales of dangerous products. When a consumer suffers serious injuries due to a faulty or defective product, they should consider taking legal action.
Options for Injured Consumers
Consumers can file lawsuits against the makers and distributors of dangerous products through product liability claims. These claims offer an injured person the opportunity to seek compensation for any costs associated with their injury, including medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. Lawsuits also serve as a powerful deterrent to negligent manufacturers by holding them accountable for the damage they have caused.
At the accident and injury law office of Terry Bryant, we have over three decades of experience representing clients in product liability claims. We have helped clients with claims on faulty medical devices, prescription drugs, defective vehicle parts, and other dangerous products. These types of cases can be complex, and it’s important to seek an attorney who has the experience, skill, and resources to stand up to the interests of large manufacturers. We are proud to offer our clients aggressive legal representation in these matters.
We offer free consultations and earn no fee unless we win your case. To schedule a free consultation with the accident and injury law office of Terry Bryant, contact us today by filling out our online contact form or giving us a call at 1 (800) 444-5000 or locally in the Houston area at (713) 973-8888.