Types of Recalls
On a daily basis you may have heard reports of a dangerous or defective product being recalled, but may not understand what a recall is, what it means, and whether it applies to the product you own. This page is designed to give you some basic education about the different types of product recalls, how they apply to defective products or defective drugs, and how to respond to a product recall.
Basic Recall Types
In general, recalls of defective products are broken down into a few major categories, mostly depending on the federal agency that regulates them. These categories are:
- Consumer products regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
- Automotive products regulated by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Office of Defects Investigation (ODI)
- Boats and Watercraft regulated by the United States Coast Guard (USCG)
- Biocides (e.g. rodenticides, fungicides, herbicides) regulated by theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Firearms regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)
- Food products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Dietary supplements regulated by the FDA
- Pharmaceutical drugs regulated by the FDA
- Medical devices regulated by the FDA
- Cosmetics regulated by the FDA
The general goal of all recalls is the same preventing injury by getting defective products out of the hands of consumers, but each agency has its own procedures it follows in attempting to accomplish the goal. In most cases, recalls are not intended to remedy products that do not perform as advertised. Claims of deceptive or false advertising are handled by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Defective Consumer Products
Defective consumer products are regulated by the CPSC. Its goal is to protect consumers and their families from defective products that pose hazard through a risk of fire, electric shock, chemical contamination, or mechanical injury. The types of consumer products regulated by the CPSC include:
- Child products (including toys, but not including car seats)
- Household products, including:
- Refrigerators and other appliances
- Blinds, curtains, and shutters
- Outdoor products
- Sports and recreation products
- Specialty products, a catch-all category that includes many things from cotton candy machines to concrete grinders
The CPSC states that it will only initiate a recall if a product presents a significant risk to consumers, either because it may be defective or because it violates a mandatory safety standard. Products can be recalled either before any injuries have been reported, but more commonly are made in response to numerous reports of injury or death.
Defective Automobiles and Automobile Products
Defective automobiles and defective automobile products are regulated through the NHTSA’s ODI, which is constantly pouring over accident reports and consumer complaints about cars and car equipment. Car equipment that falls under the jurisdiction of the NHTSA includes:
- Car seats
- Trailers and trailer hitches
- Replacement equipment, such as oil filters, brake pads, wipers, and modifications
Because car insurance is mandatory in most states, and insurance companies are constantly evaluating the safety of particular vehicle makes and models to give appropriate rates, insurance companies also make suggestions to the NHTSA about issues as they arise. Such was the case with the Toyota Recall. In 2007 State Farm approached the NHTSA with reports about Camry spontaneous acceleration events, and in that year Toyota issued a small recall for floor mat pedal entrapment.
Defective Boats, Watercraft, and Related Equipment
Boats, watercraft, and related equipment are regulated under the US Coast Guard. Because of the different nature of this agency, as one of the five branches of the US military, it handles recalls somewhat differently, and recall information can be hard to come by. Boat, watercraft, and related equipment recalls often rely more heavily on direct mailing to consumers, so the Coast Guard encourages you to register your purchase of boat equipment with the manufacturer so you can receive recall information. This is especially true for personal safety equipment like life vests.
Biocides are poisons intended for use in controlling undesirable organisms, and are typically named for the target organism, such as pesticides for the control of vermin like rats and cockroaches, herbicides for the control of undesirable plants, and fungicide for the control of fungus. Because these poisons are generally nonspecific in their effects and can often lead to environmental contamination, they are regulated by the EPA, which regularly issues not only recalls but also updated guidelines for use.
Firearms are a slightly different category of product. Since the primary issue with gun injuries is inappropriate use rather than product defect, gun recalls are slightly different. In addition, because of registration and licensing requirements, gun manufacturers are more able to reach their consumers more readily with direct communication, limiting the value of public announcements of recalls.
Defective Food Products
Food products are regulated by the FDA, which maintains quality assurance standards for many different types of food products. Although massive recalls of food products–such as beef being recalled for E. coli contamination, or tomatoes for salmonella–often make major headlines, there is a daily torrent of smaller recalls affecting almost every variety of food product. Recalls are commonly made for undeclared allergens and contamination with allergens, toxins, or hazardous organisms. The FDA highlights and promotes the most serious recalls, but they are all available on its website.
Defective Dietary Supplements
Dietary supplements fit in a category that sits between food products and pharmaceutical drugs. Although they are not intended to treat any specific disease or condition, they are sometimes promoted as being beneficial in one way or another. Like foods, dietary supplements are not required to have premarket approval before they are sold, and like foods they are required to have a list of ingredients and maintain certain quality controls. However, many dietary supplements, like Hydroxycut, may cause serious side effects, and may be recalled once these side effects become known. They are also often recalled for undeclared ingredients, which are sometimes banned medicines or illegal substances.
Like most defective products, defective drugs fall into two major categories, those that are defective by design and those that are defective by manufacture. Drugs that are defective by design are drugs that cause serious side effects as a result of their normal functioning to perform their intended treatment. They may also have unanticipated interactions with other drugs. Drugs that are defective by manufacture are either contaminated, contain more or less active ingredient, or otherwise fail to meet the quality control standards of the FDA. Although all drugs are required to undergo premarket approval, many serious side effects of drugs are not known until after the drug has been approved. The most serious side effects are set off in what are called black box warnings. If these side effects are too serious and too common, the drug may be recalled or pulled from the market.
Defective Medical Devices
Medical devices are also regulated by the FDA, who handles all defective medical device recalls. Medical devices are most commonly recalled because of defects that can cause the device to malfunction, leading to injury or death. Lawsuits over defective medical devices can be significantly different from those over defective drugs, especially after some recent Supreme Court decisions.
Cosmetics are the last major class of products regulated by the FDA. They are defined as “articles intended to be rubbed poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body… for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering the appearance.” Cosmetics can be recalled if they are considered to be “adulterated,” contaminated with poisonous, putrid, or filthy substance. They can also be recalled if they are considered to be “misbranded” with false or misleading information or lacking required information. Misbranded cosmetics are sometimes recalled by the FDA, and other times addressed by the FTC.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product or dangerous drug, the experienced product liability lawyers of Schlichter, Bogard & Denton stand ready to help. We represent clients in all 50 states. Please call or email us today to schedule your free initial consultation.