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Washington Bicycling Hub - Fall '03
Brunswick Slammed With $1 Million Fine
Federal Safety Agency Cites Slow Reporting of Injuries
Caused by Faulty Forks
By Charles Pekow
Mr. Pekow, a seasoned Washington journalist, provides Bikexchange.com with continuing coverage of national legislative news on bicycling issues.
Warning to manufacturers: if you suspect a safety problem with a bicycle or part, report it right away. One manufacturer didn’t and wound up with a $1 million fine in addition to its legal fees and egg on its face.
Brunswick Corporation of Lake Forest, Illinois, recalled about 103,000 Roadmaster and Mongoose bicycles between May 2000 and April 2002 in three separate recalls because of improperly welded forks. It first recalled about 13,500 bicycles in May 2000, recalling 26,500 more in February 2001 and the remaining 63,000 in April 2002. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) charged that the company failed to report the defects promptly despite knowing of 31 injuries caused by the forks.
Brunswick made and sold the bicycles nationwide for two years starting in June 1998. It contracted with By Us International Corporation of Taiwan to make Ballistic 105 forks to be welded into the bikes. But the forks had an unfortunate habit of breaking during normal riding, which causes riders to lose control.
Over a year, starting in September 1998, Brunswick learned of at least 14 reports of the forks breaking, causing users to smash on the ground, losing and breaking teeth, fracturing jaws, getting knocked out, cracking bones and requiring stitches. But it took a year before the company “concluded there might be a problem with the bicycles’ forks,” according to the settlement agreement.
So In October 1999, Brunswick officials contacted By Us about the problem and met with By Us’s president the following month. By Us told Brunswick that a By Us subcontractor; Akisu Machinery Company, Ltd; “improperly welded the forks onto the bicycles.” Brunswick reported the news to CPSC the next day. But it had already heard of at last 19 instances of breaking forks.
Brunswick didn’t start the recall for about six more months and the company still didn’t learn its lesson. Shortly thereafter, Brunswick learned of at least nine more breaking forks with serial numbers outside the original recall. Not only that, but in August 2000 By Us gave Brunswick a list of all the serial numbers of forks Akisu had welded for it – including many not subject to the recall.
But Brunswick waited until October 30 to report the news to CPSC, although federal law requires notification within 24 hours. “The law is clear: if in doubt, report to us,” CPSC Spokesperson Scott Wolfson says. “Let us cooperate with you on a recall that is most effective. If you choose not to report to us on time, we will take action against you.”
And so, the delay got the company into trouble. "We’ll work as hard as we can to get the most appropriate penalties for the most serious offenses,” Wolfson says. “There should be no doubt companies must report to us right away….It does not help consumers when CPSC has to announce three recalls of the same product. It is hard enough to get consumers to respond to a recall announcement. It is harder when there are two or three. It’s not the most effective way to ensure consumer safety.”
In standard language, Brunswick agreed to pay the fine without admitting guilt. Contacted by this reporter, Erika Jones of the Washington, DC law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, who represented Brunswick on the case, said she would check with the company regarding comment. She did not call back.
The company states on its website in five languages that “Brunswick Corporation is committed to conducting business with professionalism and integrity” and has developed a booklet called “Making the Right Choice: The Brunswick Guide to Conduct in the Workplace” to govern employee ethics. The company acknowledges, however, that the guide “does not address every situation.” Evidently the unaddressed situations include the ethics of letting people suffer serious injury because of defective bicycle parts.
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