New CPSC boss wants companies to play by the rules and she'll have a new, big stick to wield

Mitch Lipka

For years, a handful of companies that manufactured products consumers told them were dangerous seemingly violated the federal consumer safety rules as a business decision. They had a decision to make: quickly report the problem (as the law requires) and repair or replace hundreds of thousands of products in inventory, or sell out the product line before agreeing to a recall and risk paying the ensuing penalty.

The more calculating of the lot chose the later -- allowing untold numbers of children and adults to be injured by withholding information they knew and were required to disclose: that their products were dangerous. With the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission wielding a somewhat blunted sword by only being able to fine up to $1.8 million, those firms didn't have a lot to fear.