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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

United States Files Suit against Spectrum Brands for Failing to Report Safety Hazard in Defective Coffeemakers

Dozens of Burns Reported When Coffee Pot Handle Repeatedly Broke

The Department of Justice and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) jointly announced today the filing of a complaint against Spectrum Brands Inc., alleging that the company and its former subsidiary, Applica Consumer Products, failed to timely report a hazardous defect involving handles that detached from Black & Decker brand SpaceMaker coffee pots.    

Spectrum Brands is a Delaware corporation headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin, that distributes a wide variety of brand-name small appliances, hardware, and home and garden products.  Applica Consumer Products was the Florida company that imported and distributed the coffeemaker.  Applica became a subsidiary of Spectrum in 2010, and the two companies merged in 2014.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, charges that the companies knowingly violated the reporting requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Act with respect to defective carafe handles that could detach and cause hot coffee to pour onto consumers.  As set forth in the complaint, the coffeemakers generated hundreds of complaints from consumers over more than three years before Applica finally notified the CPSC of the carafe defect and recalled the product.  Dozens of consumers contacted the company to report burns related to the handle suddenly detaching.  The complaint, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the CPSC, seeks civil penalties and permanent injunctive relief.

The government also alleges that, in addition to failing to notify the CPSC of the defect  “immediately” as required by law, the companies continued to distribute a small number of the defective coffeemakers to retailers even after the recall was announced.

“Hundreds of consumers complained to the company about this dangerous defect over the years,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “We rely on companies to report these safety issues immediately, as the law requires, to prevent unnecessary injuries.  The Department of Justice will continue to protect the public against companies that put profits over safety.”

“We believe Spectrum Brands and Applica Consumer Products knew about the hazard with these coffeemakers for years,” said CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye.  “Despite the fact that these firms were required to report potential hazards and risks to CPSC immediately, it appears they chose to profit from continued sales instead.  Their failure to follow the law and report, resulted in dozens of injuries to unsuspecting customers.”

The companies distributed the coffeemakers from 2008 to 2012.  The complaint alleges that beginning as early as 2009 and continuing until April 2012, the companies received approximately 1,600 consumer complaints about defective carafe handles.  The coffeemakers were recalled in June 2012. 

The matter is being handled by the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and the CPSC’s Office of the General Counsel.

The claims made in the complaint are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Consumer Protection
Updated June 17, 2015