(WKBN) – The government agency that screens toys has drastically limited its number of inspections in 2020, which means many kids’ Christmas presents may not have been checked for dangers.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission works to keep American consumers and their families safe from products that may not initially seem dangerous.
Each year, the CPSC — nicknamed the “toy police” — warns consumers about a range of dangers in their homes. Checking toys for possible hazards, such as poisonous lead levels or small parts that could cause young children to choke, is among its responsibilities.
Due to COVID-19, the CPSC has been performing fewer inspections than normal this year. USA Today reports the agency did not alert consumers or Congress before pulling inspectors from its ports.
Local attorney Frank Cassese was surprised by the move, especially in light of the holiday season.
“While their agency does more than just toys — they do all consumer products — a big part of what they do is children’s toys, so I was surprised by that,” he said. “However, being that we are in unprecedented times, I’m not entirely surprised because so much has changed across the United States in a short period of time.”
USA Today did report some related data to put all of this into context. Before the pandemic, the CPSC was doing screenings at ports across the country.
In February, it conducted 3,401 safety screenings for consumer products. In August, that number dropped to just 47.
That is a large drop-off, but inspection numbers from last year make it even clearer. In 2019, the CPSC conducted an average of 3,251 screenings each month.
The CPSC also investigates things like dressers and wardrobes that can tip over and fall on children or pets, oftentimes leaving them badly hurt or killed.
There have also been fewer reported violations, according to USA Today. For example, in 2019, the average for lead violations was 40 infractions each month. That seems somewhat in line with the 33 infractions reported in February 2020. But that number went all the way down to zero reported violations in June.
Families could work with an attorney on a product liability case, which will aim to prove there was a manufacturing defect, a design flaw or that the toy company failed to warn consumers about something dangerous, like a choking hazard.
“I would caution anyone, it’s not as simple as, ‘Oh, my child got hurt by a toy.’ These manufacturers and these toy companies aren’t just going to pay. One of the first things they’re going to look at is whether or not the toy was modified or misused,” Cassese said.
He explained taking a toy apart or misusing it would end a product liability case. But if a child has been hurt while playing with a toy correctly, there are steps families should follow to hold companies responsible.
First, you should report the product to the CPSC. That way, it could help other families from being hurt by the same product.
Second, contact an attorney to see if the manufacturer could be at fault for the injury.
Third, keep the product. Without it, Cassese said it is impossible to proceed with a case against the company. He said he has seen some clients lose the product in question and that practically ended their case. Those situations weren’t with toys, though — they were cars that had faulty airbags and were towed away.
Even with keeping products, it’s important to make sure they’re hidden so no one in the family uses it.
The CPSC estimates over 200,000 kids nationwide went to the emergency room last year after being hurt while playing with a toy. The large majority of those children were not seriously hurt and were able to go back home after a quick visit. Some of the injuries were deadly.
The CPSC reports 14 kids ages 14 and younger died because of toys in 2019 — either from choking or nonmotorized scooter accidents.
Families are encouraged to check out all of the recalled toys on the agency’s website.
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