Department of Justice Sues Michaels Stores for Failing to Report Product Defect
Glass vases sold in Michaels stores between 2006 and 2010 caused serious injuries to some of those who purchased them, in addition to some who just picked up the item while browsing in the store.
Now the company is facing legal ramifications as the Department of Justice and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have jointly filed a lawsuit against Michaels Stores Inc. and its subsidiary Michaels Stores Procurement Co. Inc., alleging the company failed to report the vase's laceration hazard.
“Michaels allegedly failed to report critical information about the safety of one of its products,” Benjamin C. Mizer, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said. “The Department of Justice will continue to protect the public against companies that put profits over safety.”
The vases' walls were too thin to withstand normal handling, and therefore shattered in consumers' hands, causing lacerations requiring stitches, permanent nerve damage and surgery to repair severed tendons, according to the complaint. Michaels allegedly received complaints over the course of two years, beginning in 2007. The federal complaint described nine incidents occurring prior to Michaels reporting the danger of the vases. Many more have allegedly occurred since then.
Oct. 19, 2007: A consumer reported a vase shattering in her hand, causing injuries that required surgery to repair tendon and nerve damage, and resulted in permanent impairment of her left thumb. An expert report in that case compared the thinnest part of the vase to the thickness of a light bulb and deemed it "unreasonably dangerous for its normal use."
Feb. 22, 2009: A vase shattered injuring the customer who was checking out at the register. An employee documented the incident in a injury report.
March 13, 2009: A consumer lacerated her thumb while shopping. The injury report indicated, "customer grasped vase and vase broke in middle. Poorly made—thin glass in middle of vase."
April 20, 2009: Another customer was injured when the vase broke and cut a customer between her thumb and forefinger, which later required surgery and then a cast for five weeks. The customer has lost nerve sensation in her fingers. Michaels forwarded the injury report to The Gerson Co., which procured the vases.
July 18, 2009: A customer who bought the vase accidentally put her right thumb through the vase, causing it to shatter and requiring her to get surgery to repair tendon and nerve damage.
Sept. 24, 2009: Another customer who purchased the vase had it shatter in his hand after he filled it with water. After having surgery to repair a damaged tendon and nerve, his recovery became complicated by an infection.
Oct. 31, 2009: A customer was taken to the hospital via an ambulance from the store parking lot. She had picked up the vase she purchased and it shattered. She needed eight stitches to her hand.
Dec. 10, 2009: Upon picking up the vase at Michaels, a customer's thumb went through the glass, causing a laceration at the base of her thumb.
Dec. 22, 2009: A vase shattered in a customer's hands after she took it home
The complaint alleges that when Michaels notified the CPSC on Feb. 22, 2010, it claimed to have not imported the vases. That statement cleared Michaels of the legal responsibility for the recall as well as associated costs of the recall, forcing The Gerson Co., in September 2010, to recall about 211,000 20" vases sold in the U.S. and Canada. Michaels allegedly admitted to being the importer in February 2012.
"As a further result of Michaels' material misrepresentation, Michaels ' name was not prominently cited in the recall alert, nor was Michaels identified in the recall alert as the manufacturer," the complaint noted. "Moreover, Michaels was not required to accept returns or assume any legal responsibility in connection with the recall. Instead, consumers were directed to call a 1-800 number and to return the product to Gerson."
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and permanent injunction relief for failing to notify the CPSC of the danger "immediately"—or "within 24 hours"—as required by law.
“We believe that Michaels chose to profit from selling defective vases that put people at risk, instead of following the law and immediately reporting that their vases were shattering and causing great harm to consumers,” said Elliot F. Kaye, CPSC chairman. “To protect the public, companies are required to report potential product hazards and risks to CPSC on a timely basis. That means within 24 hours, not more than a year as in Michaels’ case.”