For the fifth time, Black & Decker has been penalized for being slow to report safety hazards in its products. In the latest case, the company will pay $1.575 million for delaying reports of safety defects in its cordless electric lawnmowers.
Prosecutors said the lawnmowers started spontaneously and continued operating even after consumers released the handles and removed the safety keys.
In one case, the lawnmower continued running for hours while its owner was being treated in an emergency room and after firemen had removed the blade.
“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.”
The Department of Justice and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said Black & Decker will also set up a compliance program to ensure that it acts more responsibly in the future.
Black & Decker has previously paid four civil penalties relating to untimely reporting of defects and risks presented by other Black & Decker products.
“Black & Decker’s persistent inability to follow these vital product safety reporting laws calls into question their commitment to the safety of their customers,” said Chairman Elliot F. Kaye of the CPSC. “They have a lot of work to do to earn back the public’s trust. 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.”
The complaint relates to cordless lawnmowers manufactured and sold by Black & Decker from 1995 to 2006. According to the complaint, in as early as November 1998, Black & Decker started receiving reports about the problem, known as a continuous-run defect. A second defect involved lawnmowers that unexpectedly started even though the handle was released and the safety key removed, referred to as a spontaneous ignition defect.
The United States alleged that between 1998 and 2009, Black & Decker received more than 100 complaints regarding the continuous-run or spontaneous ignition defects. The United States further alleged that, after consulting an outside expert, the company knew in 2004 that the lawnmowers could continue to run even if a user released the handle and removed the safety key.
Despite knowledge of all of this information, Black & Decker failed to report to the CPSC until early 2009, even though federal law requires “immediate reporting.”
The complaint further notes that at least two consumers informed Black & Decker that the lawnmower’s blades started unexpectedly while the consumer cleaned them, resulting in injury. The complaint states that in one case, the lawnmower continued to run, with the handle released and without the safety key, for several hours while the consumer sought treatment in a hospital emergency room for injury to the consumer’s hand, and after fire department personnel arrived and removed the blade.