Williams Sonoma to pay $1 million penalty for failing to report defects

Williams Sonoma, Inc. of San Francisco, CA has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $987,500 to settle allegations that it failed to immediately report defects involving the company’s Pottery Barn wooden hammock stands.

According the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Williams Sonoma imported the wooden hammock stands between March 2003 and July 2008, and distributed them through its Pottery Barn and PBteen catalogs and websites, as well as through its Pottery Barn Outlet stores. The wood within the hammock’s metal brackets allegedly deteriorated when subject to outdoor conditions, but the deterioration would go undetected until the hammock collapsed under normal use.

Federal law requires that manufacturers, distributors and retailers immediately (i.e., within 24 hours) report to the CPSC information that a product contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard, or pose a risk of injury or death to consumers. In this case, Williams Sonoma reportedly received reports of 45 separate incidents involving the hammocks, including 12 reports of injuries requiring medical attention, before filing a report with the CPSC in September 2008. The company and the CPSC announced a recall of 30,000 hammock stands in October 2008.

In agreeing to the civil penalty, Williams Sonoma neither admitted nor denied CPSC allegations that the wooden hammock stands posed an unreasonable risk of injury or death, or that the company violated the reporting requirement of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Act.