Consumer groups are publicizing a recent lawsuit settlement against Sears in an effort to encourage lawmakers to toughen legislation on consumer product safety. The lawsuit against Sears occurred due to the company’s installation of millions of kitchen ranges that were prone to tipping over, thus causing more than one hundred people injuries from burns caused by hot matter spilling from the stove top. In some cases people were even killed after being crushed by the weight of the stove. The settlement of over $500 million, requires Sears to fix the ranges in consumer’s homes by bolting them to the floor or wall. The settlement includes all ranges sold by Sears since 2000. Consumer groups claim the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) knew about these dangerous stoves for twenty years but did not take the steps needed to correct the problem. The commission’s spokesperson, however, stated they issued a recommendation that consumers use a bracket to secure the range and that the stove industry apply its own voluntary safety standards. More details about the Sears settlement can be found at www.searsrangesettlement.com
This case comes as another example of the commission’s shortcomings, mostly the problem of understaffing which leads to products not being monitored effectively. Consumer groups are pushing for legislation that would help the CPSC with finances and many other internal problems. A recent bill to help improve the CPSC, passed within the House, has gotten a lot of positive response from the consumer groups due to it being a very bipartisan piece of legislation. Another bill that was passed in the Senate has gotten a negative response from consumer groups because they see it as overreaching and giving the commission greater discretion to reveal details of consumer complaints to the companies and would also discourage the companies from being forthright with regulators. The Bush administration also disagrees with the Senate’s bill because it gives state prosecutors the power to enforce the consumer product laws and gives compensation to industry whistle-blowers.