Consumer Protection Agency Catering to Industry?


ATV accidents have been getting more and more exposure across the news recently, as new statistics have come to light revealing the alarming number of accidents among children under the age of 16. A case is currently being decided in Florida regarding the applicability of "hold-harmless" waiver forms for children in potentially dangerous such areas as amusement parks and ATV parks.

As a result of these sobering facts, organizations such as Concerned Families for ATV Safety are pushing for regulations on ATV sales, as well as enforcement of mandatory equipment use for helmets and eye protection. One bill at least has reached the state congress in South Carolina that would make such regulations law in that state. Concerned Families is also pushing for a similar federal law.

An article in the New York Times, however, has painted a bleak portrait of the possibility of such a law ever being enacted, despite the very real increases that statistics have demonstrated over the past five years.

The article details the current struggles of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, both exposing their relative ineffectiveness over the past several years and offering various viewpoints on contributing issues.

The issue of consumer product safety is particularly hot in the news right now, as massive recalls of toys from China are occurring every other day, it seems. The CPSC is in part responsible for these and other recalls of products for safety reasons, and has made a total of 471 recalls on defective or potentially hazardous products in the past year.

However, the examination and recall of defective products is just one part of consumer protection that the agency engages in, and truthfully, not as effective as the preventative measures such as warnings and restrictions that they put in place to avoid reactive measures such as recalls. And the story the article relates about the CPSC attempts to create restrictions on ATVS to decrease the number of deaths of children under 16 is particularly shocking.

In March 2005, before even recent reports this year have showed steady rates of ATV accidents and deaths in the past two years, the CPSC held a meeting with safety experts to try to provide solutions for the growing problem of ATV accidents among children. The previous year, reports indicated, a total of 44,000 children were injured, including nearly 150 fatally.

After gathering support from a number of people, including pediatricians, consumer advocates and doctors, for a ban for selling adult-size ATVs for use by children under 16, the committee met with top safety experts in the industry to discuss the possibility of instating such a ban nationwide.

However, according to evidence offered to the Times, a leading director in the committee unexpectedly brought forward a point-blank rebuttal of the proposed ban. The director of compliance claimed, against all the evidence that the committee statistician and leading ATV injury expert had provided, that the current system of warning labels was sufficient. The director was in favor of voluntary safety standards, believing that the industry could regulate itself.

Of course, many will point to the fact that the compliance director was a former lawyer for the ATV industry as a deciding factor in his staunch refusal to impose the ban. And, the articles goes on to claim, he is just one of many industry-friendly officials appointed to government agencies under the current presidential regime.

But in the meantime, as the rate of ATV accidents in children continues its steady march forward, parents, families and other individuals involved are questioning where they can find recourse, if not in the government agency.

However, despite the state investigation and the public apology, it may be that the Pitts have no legal recourse when it comes to recovering for their privacy invasion. The line that many believe the investigators crossed may in fact be moral or ethical rather than legal.

Stay tuned to Total Injury for developments in this lawsuit, as it determines what may be an important distinction between ethical and legal regulation on insurance company investigations.

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