A logjam of requests for information about specific products that have injured consumers will be broken under a new rule proposed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The proposal, which was published in the Federal Register Friday, establishes steps for the commission in releasing details of complaints from consumers hurt by particular products.
At present, the commission will provide the name of the brand and manufacturer only when there has been an in-depth investigation of the complaint by the commission or some other authorized group, or when there is some scientific or technical basis for the complaint.
The result is that most requests for information on the brands consumers have complained about are not being granted.
Under the proposed rule, the commission would release the name of the brand or product if two conditions are met: The consumer must have confirmed in a follow-up letter that the information in his telephoned or written complaint is accurate, and the manufacturer must not have provided information showing the complaint is wrong.
"This follow-up letter is intended to make sure that the complaint is genuine and to ensure, as far as we can, the accuracy of what the consumer said in the initial complaint," said Alan H. Schoem, a commission attorney who helped develop the proposal.
Consumer advocates applauded the plan. "For consumers, it is vital to have access to those complaints," said Anne Averyt, a product safety specialist with the Consumer Federation of America.
"We don't know if there is a problem with a product, such as a toaster, for example, unless the commission gives out information on the complaints it has received about toasters" and their brands and manufacturers, Averyt said.
Schoem said the rule would help clear the commission's backlog of 678 requests for information about injuries resulting from specific brands. Some requests will be denied because they are too old, he said.
Those requests date back to June, 1980, when the Supreme Court ruled that the CPSC would have to stop releasing information about complaints naming brands and companies until steps were taken to make sure the information was valid.
The court also said the agency would have allow the manufacturer to comment on the complaints before information was released. The ruling was reinforced last year when Congress restricted the release of complaints received by the CPSC.