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Firms Fined Over Product Hazards

U.S. Home & Garden sold dangerous weeding equipment; STK's toys posed choking risks.

November 11, 2002|From Associated Press

A San Francisco company has agreed to an $885,000 fine for failing to report safety defects in a weed trimmer attachment linked to more than a dozen injuries and the death of a 3-year-old girl.

U.S. Home & Garden Inc. and a subsidiary will pay the civil penalty for allegedly not telling the government of problems associated with attachments to the Weed Wizard trimmer, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

In a lawsuit filed in July, the government said the companies knew of a February 1998 internal report that said the product could cause serious injuries, but continued to sell it for more than two years afterward. A metal chain link on the head of the weed trimmer can fly off and cut through skin and bone, the commission said. In 1997, a 3-year-old Alabama girl was killed when a link came loose and lodged in her skull.

In a separate product safety case, a Los Angeles company pleaded guilty to importing and selling toys with parts that pose a choking hazard to young children.

STK International Inc. must pay $270,000 in civil and criminal penalties, the largest fine against a company in violation of "small parts" laws and the first time both civil and criminal fines have resulted from toy-related violations, the commission said.

In the U.S. Home & Garden case, about 2.7 million Weed Wizard trimmer heads with metal chains and about 857,000 trimmer replacement chain sets were sold nationwide from May 1987 to April 2000, the government said. The product was recalled by Weed Wizard Acquisition Corp. in May 2000 after the company received several injury reports.

"Companies that ignore our reporting requirements will be penalized," said Hal Stratton, commission chairman.

U.S Home & Garden denied the allegations but entered into the settlement to avoid litigation expenses, the company said in a statement.

"We are very pleased to bring closure to these matters without any substantial financial burden being incurred by the company," Chief Executive Robert Kassel said.

The payment will be split between U.S. Home & Garden and subsidiary A.A.B.B. Inc., the company said.

In the STK case, the company faced criminal penalties because of repeat violations. In May 1997, STK paid an $80,000 fine for importing products with parts too small for young children.

Government monitoring from June 1997 to this July found that the company continued to import toys deemed dangerous for children, resulting in 12 criminal misdemeanor counts brought by the commission and the Justice Department.

STK has been ordered to inspect its products before importation. Calls to the company were not returned.

STK recalled about 110,000 toys in August 2001, including the 2 Piece Tambourine Set, Bathtime Water Wheel, Funny Loco Wind-Up and Pull Back Duck in Boat.

Calls to the company were not immediately returned.

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