Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Takes New Approach Putting Buckyballs Out of Business and Suing Executive Zucker
In 2013, the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) took the unprecedented step of asking retailers to stop selling the popular desk item Buckyballs due to their hazard to children. It also sued Zucker, the company President individually. The popular desk item contains numerous magnetic balls shaped in a cube that, if swallowed, could perforate the stomach lining and intestines. Several reports indicated children swallowed the balls causing injury.
Although the CPSC has seen countless other products that have caused injury including ATVs, balloons, fireworks and detergent pods, the CPSC has never gone directly to retailers to request that retailers stop selling the offending product. It has also never sued a company officer in relation to a recall although criminal penalties can be imposed for willful violations of the Consumer Product Safety Act. In fact, the Consumer Protection Safety Act places the responsibility of a recall on the manufacturer, retailer or distributor and not on the individual company officer.
Buckyballs are legal to sell and use even after the CPSC actions. The company even issued instructional videos on how to safely use the product. It also contained five separate warnings on the product that warned against improper use. Despite these warnings the company was forced out of business when major retailers of the product, like Amazon, refused to sell the product based on the CPSC’s request. This raises the important question of whether a government agency, like the CPSC, should have the power to effectively run a company out of business when it is selling a completely legal product. It also should serve as a warning that individual liability, as a company officer, is a very real concern for product manufacturers.