US consumer safety regulator sues Amazon over hazardous product sales

It wants to force the retailer to recall defective goods.

Brendan McDermid / reuters

Amazon's handling of defective and potentially unsafe products is back in the spotlight. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is suing the online retailer to force it to recall faulty items that pose safety risks to shoppers. In the filing, regulators said they had warned Amazon about the hazardous items on its site, but deemed its response insufficient.

According to the CPSC, the faulty goods included 24,000 carbon monoxide detectors that failed to alarm, 400,000 hair dryers that lacked electrocution safeguards and children's sleepwear that could catch fire. The commission voted by 3-1 to approve the legal complaint to compel Amazon to recall the named products, notify customers who purchased them and offer full refunds.

As stated in the lawsuit, the retailer has already taken some of those actions. Amazon removed the identification numbers for the specified products, the CPSC said. The company also informed consumers who had purchased the goods that they could present a hazard and offered to compensate them with gift cards credited to their account, the regulator noted. But, the CPSC insisted that Amazon's "unilateral" response was insufficient.

In a statement to Reuters, Amazon said it was "unclear" why the CPSC rejected its offer to expand its recall program, including for products sold by third parties, or sued to force actions "almost entirely duplicative" of those it had taken. The retailer added that it had removed "the vast majority" of the products in question from its store and provided full customer refunds.

“Today’s vote to file an administrative complaint against Amazon was a huge step forward for this small agency,” said the CPSC acting chairman Robert Adler. “But it’s a huge step across a vast desert—we must grapple with how to deal with these massive third-party platforms more efficiently, and how best to protect the American consumers who rely on them.”

This isn't the first time Amazon has been lambasted for its distribution of hazardous items. Last year, a CNN investigation into customer reviews on the site found 70 AmazonBasics items had been associated with fires. A 2019 report by The Wall Street Journal also claimed that Amazon was selling more than 4,000 items that federal agencies had declared unsafe, prompting Senators to write to then CEO Jeff Bezos for answers.

Last fall, a California state appeals court ruled that Amazon can be held liable for damages and injuries caused by faulty products sold on its third-party marketplace.