WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced today that that Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc., of Towson, Md., has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $1.575 million and to maintain an internal compliance program.
The agreement resolves CPSC allegations that Black & Decker knowingly violated federal reporting requirements with respect to cordless electric lawnmowers that started spontaneously and that continued to operate after consumers released the lawnmower handles and removed the safety keys. The matter was subject to a maximum penalty of $1.825 million.
“Black & Decker’s persistent inability to follow these vital product safety reporting laws calls into question their commitment to the safety of their customers. They have a lot of work to do to earn back the public’s trust,” said CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye. “Companies are required to report potential product hazards and risks to CPSC on a timely basis. That means within 24 hours, not months or years as in Black & Decker’s case.”
This is Black & Decker’s fifth civil penalty since 1986 for failing to report safety defects with its products under CPSC’s jurisdiction, and this latest penalty is the largest amount Black & Decker has paid. “Not for the first time, Black & Decker held back critical information from the public about the safety of one of its products,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to protect the public against companies that put profits over safety.”
Black & Decker manufactured and sold the cordless lawnmowers under the Black & Decker and Craftsman brand names from 1995 to 2006. Starting in 1998, the firm began receiving consumer complaints that the lawnmowers would not turn off even after consumers released the handle and removed the safety key. Federal law requires that the blades on walk-behind lawnmowers stop when the operator releases the handle. Black & Decker’s lawnmowers continued to run even after consumers released the handle.
Black & Decker also received consumer complaints, starting in 2003, that the lawnmowers would restart spontaneously after the lawnmower’s handle was released and the safety key removed.
More than 100 consumers reported incidents to Black & Decker. In 2003, a man cleaning the blades of a lawnmower with the safety key removed reported that the mower started on its own and cut his hand. In 2006, another consumer reported receiving injuries to his hand while cleaning the blades when the lawnmower started unexpectedly. The consumer reported that the lawnmower continued to run for several hours while the consumer sought treatment in a hospital emergency room, and after fire department personnel arrived and removed the blade.
Black & Decker hired an outside expert in 2004, who identified the defect that caused the lawnmowers to continue to run. Despite knowing about the defect and the reported injuries, Black & Decker did not report the hazards to CPSC until 2009. Black & Decker agreed to recall the lawnmowers in 2010.
Federal law requires manufacturers, distributors and retailers to report to CPSC immediately (within 24 hours) after obtaining information reasonably supporting the conclusion that a product contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard, creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death, or fails to comply with a consumer product safety rule or any other rule, regulation, standard or ban enforced by CPSC.
In addition to paying the $1.575 million civil penalty, Black & Decker has agreed to maintain an internal compliance program to ensure that the firm complies with CPSC’s safety statutes and regulations and also agreed to a system of internal controls and procedures that includes:
- written standards and policies;
- confidential employee reporting of compliance concerns to a senior manager;
- procedures for reviewing claims and reports for safety concerns and for implementing corrective and preventive actions when compliance deficiencies or violations are identified;
- effective communication of compliance policies and procedures, including training;
- senior management responsibility for, and general board oversight of compliance; and
- requirements for record retention.
Black & Decker also has agreed to pay $1,000 in liquidated damages for each day that Black & Decker fails to comply with any provision of the agreement.
In agreeing to the settlement, Black & Decker did not admit to violating the law. The case was handled by the Department of Justice Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch on behalf of CPSC.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 40 years.
Federal law bars any person from selling products subject to a publicly-announced voluntary recall by a manufacturer or a mandatory recall ordered by the Commission.
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