Coffee-Maker Importer Fined $2 Million for Not Reporting Dangerous Defect


Importer Spectrum Brands Inc. has been ordered to pay $1.9 million dollars for its failure to report a known defect in a Black & Decker coffee maker that caused handles on the carafes to break suddenly, leading to several reports of burns.

Judge William M. Conley of the U.S. District Court in Wisconsin issued the judgment, which requires the importer to pay a fine to the federal government. The judge also issued an injunction that requires Spectrum Brands Inc. to comply with the Consumer Product Safety Act, a set of laws that established the Consumer Product Safety Commission and gives it the authority to issue product recalls and bans to protect the public.

According to an opinion issued by the judge, Spectrum and Applica, a brand Spectrum bought in 2011, had systems designed to spot safety issues in products before they hit the market and monitored the market after products were introduced, but these safety compliance programs failed in this case. The company was also ordered to revamp those programs and report back to the court on their progress as part of the order.

Applica and Spectrum imported and distributed more than 159,000 Black & Decker SpaceMaker Under-the-Cabinet coffee makers between 2008 and 2012. In late 2008, the company started receiving complaints from consumers regarding the handle on the coffee marker’s glass carafe. When the carafe was full of hot coffee, its handle would suddenly detach or break off. In the end, the importer received more than 1,600 such reports, including over 65 reports of burns.

Over the course of early 2009, Spectrum reviewed the defect and imported a redesigned carafe. However, they continued to distribute their remaining stock of the defective model despite being aware of the flaw. It was not until April of 2012 when Spectrum finally reported this defect to the Consumer Product Safety Commission after it received a class action complaint over the handles. Despite issuing a recall that year, the government discovered that the company still sold around 640 of the defective units afterward.

Spectrum argued many positions in court, including that they did not have to report the defect because the commission was already informed of the risk and that the defect reporting requirements set by the commission were too vague. However, the judge found that the commission had not been properly informed because Spectrum received far more complaints and injury reports than the consumer protection body did.

Unfortunately, many manufacturers have sold or distributed defective products over the years for many reasons, including failure to develop a proper consumer risk assessment and safety program and a lack of general oversight. While the Consumer Product Safety Commission continues to work to protect consumers, it’s likely there will always be some products managing to fall through the cracks.

Unsafe products can lead to injuries, pain and even death. If you have been harmed by a defective product, speak to a product liability or defective product lawyer Denver CO can count on about your case and all of your rights as soon as possible.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Richard J. Banta, P.C. for their insight into defective products and personal injury practice.