Wiliams-Sonoma delayed recall of dangerous shades

Williams-Sonoma (WSM) knowingly delayed recalling a product in its Pottery Barn Kids line that home furnishings retailer had reason to think it could pose a hazard to children, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Williams-Sonoma sold Pottery Barn Roman shades between 2003 and 2007. During that time it accumulated enough customer complaints about the product to realize it was potentially dangerous and warranted a recall, the agency said. The company has agreed to pay $700,000 to settle the charges.

Although Williams-Sonomo has settled claims with families who had complained about their young children becoming entangled in the cords of the shades due to a defect with the product, Williams-Sonoma waited until late summer 2008 to issue a recall. By then, the company reported that it had heard of seven incidents involving the shades.

The company ultimately recalled 85,000 shades and stopped selling window coverings with cords that could potentially strangle a child.

Window covering safety has long been an issue for product safety advocates because of how many children have died after getting caught in the cords. The CPSC said that between 1996 and 2012, at least 184 infants or young children strangled to death in window cords.

Federal law requires companies to file a report informing the safety commission of a problem with a product within 24 hours of receiving information "reasonably supporting the conclusion that a product contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard, creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death, or fails to comply with any consumer product safety requirement enforced by CPSC."

In addition to the cash penalty, Williams-Sonoma, which admitted no wrongdoing under the settlement, agreed that it would continue to follow a program set up last year to ensure such lapses don't recur. That program was put in place after the company agreed to pay nearly $1 million to settle similar charges over hammock stands that collapsed without warning, injuring at least a dozen consumers.

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.