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2001-05-29
Washington, D.C. Wal Mart's Dangerous Products

While lawmakers in two states consider legislation that would require more protections from falling merchandise on sky shelves in box box stores, here's another story of public safety in which a federal agency charges that Wal-Mart sold products it knew were seriously injuring the public, and failed to report such injuries. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced on May 25th. that the CPSC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are suing Wal-Mart Stores Inc., of Bentonville, Ark., two of its subsidiaries, and Icon Health & Fitness Inc., of Logan, Utah, for failing to report serious safety hazards associated with home exercise equipment. Many of the incidents occurred at Wal-Mart stores while customers were trying out the equipment. The lawsuit seeks fines of up to $9 million from the companies. This is the first time that the government has sued a retailer in federal court for failing to report product-related injuries. CPSC and DOJ are charging that the companies failed to report a dangerous defect with Weider and Weslo exercise gliders manufactured by Icon and distributed by Wal-Mart and its subsidiaries between 1996 and 1999, even after the companies had been notified of dozens of injuries caused by the equipment. Icon manufactured 75,000 of the gliders, many of which were distributed by the Wal-Mart companies nationwide. Under the Consumer Product Safety Act, manufacturers, distributors and retailers are required to report to CPSC products that have a defect that could create a substantial risk of injury to the public or that present an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death. The Weider and Weslo exercise gliders had a defect that allowed the seat to collapse during use, causing the user to fall abruptly and suffer severe injuries. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, and Icon began to receive information about injuries in the summer of 1996. The lawsuit alleges that Wal-Mart, its subsidiaries, and Icon were aware of dozens of injuries, including fractured vertebrae and herniated discs, but did not report them to the CPSC. Some injuries resulted in partial disability, including a compression injury to a woman's spine that left her 50 percent permanently disabled. In April 1999, Icon recalled the gliders in cooperation with CPSC. Among the charges: Wal-Mart was the first to learn of a potential problem when an injury occurred at a Wal-Mart store in July 1996, but did not report to CPSC. The Wal-Mart companies knew of 46 incidents and 41 injuries to consumers, but did not report to CPSC. Twenty-nine of the incidents occurred at Wal-Mart stores while consumers were trying out the equipment and the incidents were reported to store personnel. CPSC alleges that numerous Wal-Mart employees and managers were aware of incidents. The company that handled 36 claims involving glider incidents is owned by Wal-Mart.Icon knew of 86 incidents and 68 injuries to consumers, but did not report to CPSC. In November 1997, after receiving more than 76 incident reports, design changes were made to gliders in inventory, but CPSC was not informed about the hazards presented by those in homes or on store shelves. In the course of its investigation into Icon's failure to report, CPSC discovered that Wal-Mart had extensive knowledge of injuries, which it did not report to CPSC. Icon and the Wal-Mart companies deny they had any responsibility for informing CPSC about the known defects or injuries.

What you can do: If the customer is boss at Wal-Mart, how come the boss was allowed to get on this dangerous exercise equipment for years, and sustain injuries that were, or should have been, predictable? Was Wal-Mart deliberately trying to cover up dangerous products in its stores, as the government charges? Will Wal-Mart say this is nothing to get "exercised" about? Is consumer safety a low priority at Wal-Mart? Does this lawsuit fit into a pattern of public safety problems at big box stores, including crime risks in parking lots, falling merchandise, and now defective products? The CPSC says this lawsuit is a first, so once again, Wal-Mart leads the way!










 
 
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