Former Home Shopping Network faces penalty for not reporting injuries from defective steamers

HSN to pay $16 million for withholding information for 6 years; penalties may not be enough to deter companies from selling products they know are dangerous.

Courtesy of CPSC | Public Domain

The company formerly known as Home Shopping Network faces a $16 million civil penalty for not reporting hundreds of complaints and about 100 injuries connected with two types of defective steamers. Some of the complaints involved grievous, permanent injuries. 

The Joy Mangano products — My Little Steamer and My Little Steamer Go Mini — were cited in more than 1,000 complaints that the steamers sprayed or leaked hot water while in use, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission

That’s what the company knew when it reported the issue to the CPSC in 2019, the regulator said. Of the complaints to the company at that time, there were about 400 complaints of the steamers spraying hot water, 700 complaints about leaks, 91 reports of injuries and 29 insurance claims for injuries including second- and third-degree burns and one report of partial hearing loss. 

Companies with information that their products represent a hazard or “unreasonable risk of serious injury” are required by law to report that to the CPSC. HSN did not for more than six years. The first complaints were received in late 2012; they were reported to the CPSC in 2019. About 5.4 million of the steamers were recalled in 2021.

As of this month, the CPSC knows of at least 178 injuries related to the steamers, according to CPSC Commissioner Peter Feldman.

The commission’s four members voted unanimously for the $16 million settlement and requirements for HSN to submit compliance information for three years.

CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric said in a statement the CPSC is committed to holding companies accountable when they continue to sell products they know the products have caused injuries or contain defects that make them dangerous. 

He noted that the CPSC has already tallied $25 million in civil penalties in less than six weeks – since Oct. 1. “This is no small feat, and our actions send a loud and clear warning to companies that CPSC will act when companies do not report,” Hoehn-Saric said. Last fiscal year, the CPSC assessed more than $52 million in civil penalties, up from $32 million the year before. The payments go to the U.S. Treasury.

Feldman noted the agreement with HSN includes auditing requirements: It must improve and maintain a compliance program, maintain internal controls and submit audit reports on the effectiveness of policies, procedures, systems and training annually for three years.

“CPSC’s inclusion of audit provisions here, and in several recent civil penalty agreements, not only serves to deter violations, but also can be an effective tool to promote full compliance with the law,” Feldman said in his statement. He added that the penalty for HSN was near but below the maximum penalty allowed by law.

Commissioner Mary Boyle said she wants to see Congress “significantly increase” the penalties large companies can face.

“Indeed, I am concerned that companies with revenues in the hundreds of millions, and even billions, of dollars may consider the current penalty regime merely a cost of doing business,” Boyle said in a statement. “Companies like HSN are in the best position to know what is happening with their products, and it is critical to the American public that they report relevant safety information to CPSC in a timely way.

“Protecting the public requires a meaningful deterrent,” she added. “To penalize bad actors and to incentivize companies of all sizes to make consumer safety a top priority, I have been urging Congress to significantly increase CPSC’s penalty authority.”

Other recent civil penalties imposed by the CPSC include:

  • BJ’s Wholesale, $9 million, for not reporting defective air conditioners that posed risk of fires and burns to consumers, September 2023.
  • Generac, $15.8 million, for not reporting defective generators that posed an amputation risk, May 2023.
  • Peloton, $19 million, for not reporting defective treadmills that posed risk of injury or death, January 2023.
  • Clawfoot Supply, $6 million, for not reporting defective folding shower seats that posed risk of injury, September 2022.
  • TJX Companies (T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods,) $13 million, for selling or distributing recalled consumer products, including infant products that were recalled because they’d been connected with injuries and deaths of babies, August 2022.
  • Vornado Air, $7.5 million, for not reporting defective electric space heaters that posed a risk of serious injury, July 2022.

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Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.

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