National companies not reporting product defects

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

PHOENIX -- Many national companies are not reporting defects to the federal government like they should.

Federal investigators from the Consumer Product Safety Commission took pictures of the weed whacker that injured Bob Dolan.

"It went slamming into my shin and went right through my jeans,” Dolan said.

He recalls the weed whacker splitting his skin and leaving him bleeding. The feds say Dolan was one of 158 people injured by the now recalled weed-trimming device.

The manufacturer "knowingly failed to report several safety defects immediately to the CPSC, as required by federal law.”

As a result, the weed-whacking company was whacked with a fine just under a million dollars!

"It's pretty upsetting when I hear that they just kind of ignored it," Dolan said.

Our investigation found a disturbing trend: The number of companies penalized for not reporting safety defects is growing.

In 2010 the CPSC had to fine two companies more than a half million dollars. In 2011 that number increased to 10 companies, and the fines totaled more than $4 million.

It includes manufacturers of defective buggies, high-end refrigerators, exercise equipment, office equipment and drawstring sweatshirts.

"It greatly concerns us when injuries pile up and we're not told," said Scott Wolfson of the CPSC.

Federal law requires that when a company learns a product fails to comply with safety standards, contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard, or creates an unreasonable risk for serious injury it must immediately inform the CPSC.

"Companies struggle with when to report to the CPSC,” attorney Christie Grymes Thompson explained to 3 On Your Side.

Thompson, who represents product manufacturers, said companies have to weigh factors such as: Was a consumer misusing something? Is there a pattern? At what point do complaints equal a substantial defect?

"If the risk is maybe a little bump, probably wouldn't trigger an obligation to report,” Thompson said.  “But if the risk is cutting off a body part or a concussion, then that would likely trigger an obligation to report.”

Wolfson has a simple rule: "If in doubt, report."

The CPSC is also calling on consumers to let it know about product problems and it wants manufactures to know that they are watching and counting.

"If they are putting the health and safety of consumers at risk and keeping that information from us, they can really be held liable,” Wolfson explained.

Dolan agrees.

"It really behooves companies to take care of these problems on their own as quickly as possible," he said.

Thompson said she would recommend that companies never try to avoid a recall by not reporting incidents to the CPSC -- especially in light of how the agency has been cracking down.