How Do Recalls Work?

broken smartphoneA product recall is a request to return a product that has a defect that could endanger a consumer, such as safety issues, health hazards and design flaws.

In 2016, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled 250 million products, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recalled more than 58 million pounds of food.

Unfortunately, many recalls are not initiated until someone has already been hurt. As a consumer, you have the right to be protected from a defective product that poses an unreasonable risk of harm.

At Greg Coleman Law, our dedicated product liability lawyers in Knoxville have represented many victims of defective products that were later recalled by their manufacturer. If you or someone you love has suffered an injury caused by a defective product, contact us for a free, no obligation consultation to discuss your legal options.

A Consumer Makes a Complaint

A product recall begins when a person who has been harmed by a dangerous product reports it to one of the six government agencies responsible for handling recalls in the U.S.:

  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – The CPSC is the agency primarily responsible for recalls. It handles recalls related to more than 15,000 types of products that are commonly used in homes, schools and sports.
  • U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – Most vehicle complaints are handled through this agency.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – The FDA handles consumer complaints related to prescription drugs, tobacco, medical devices, blood and food.
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – The USDA handles recalls related to meat, poultry and eggs through a division called the Food Safety and Inspection Services.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – The EPA handles recalls due to environmental factors, such as vehicles that do not meet required environmental metrics.
  • U.S. Coast Guard – This agency issues recalls for boats and watercraft. The responding agency will then review the complaint and inform the company or manufacturer that it intends to investigate a product.

The Complaint is Investigated

When a consumer submits a complaint, the appropriate government agency conducts an investigation into the product and the cause of the defect.

Generally, the agency in charge of investigating a potentially dangerous product will review the following elements to determine if a recall is necessary:

  • Does the defective product create a significant risk of adverse health effects, injury or death to consumers?
  • Does the product fail to comply with an applicable consumer product safety rule or with any other rule, regulation, standard or ban?

The agency will review these conditions and determine if any apply to the allegedly dangerous product. If the agency finds that the product does not meet these conditions and is safe, it will conclude its investigation and take no further action.

However, if the agency finds that the product poses a risk to consumers, it will continue its investigation and review other similar products the manufacturer produced during this period. If the agency finds that a significant amount of products have been effected, it will notify the manufacturer of its findings and recommend issuing a recall.

The Manufacturer Issues a Recall

Although government consumer advocacy agencies are tasked with investigating claims of defective products, it falls onto the manufacturer to issue a recall and remove the product from the market.

Voluntary Recalls

After receiving a report that its product is not safe, a manufacturer has the option to negotiate a deal with the federal agency that issued the notice to remove the hazardous product from the market.

Typically, manufacturers will choose to voluntarily recall their products because it avoids lengthy legal battles with federal consumer agencies that could file a lawsuit.

Mandatory Recall

If a manufacturer refuses to comply with a government-issued recall, several agencies, like the FDA, have mandatory recall authority to issue a recall and force the manufacturer to comply.

Likewise, several other agencies, like the CPSC, can file a lawsuit against an uncooperative manufacturer. If the lawsuit is successful, the manufacturer must comply with the agency’s demand to issue a recall.

The Manufacture Corrects the Problem

After a manufacturer recalls a defective product, it can correct the problem that led to the product’s defective state. The manufacturer may repair, recycle or destroy the defective product.


Manufacturers may be able to repair a defective product so it can be used in a safe manner. For instance, many auto part recalls can be addressed by repairing or replacing the part. Most auto recalls involve the company will alerting the vehicle owner of a recall, which he or she can address when he or she chooses.

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act requires that car safety defects be corrected through repair, replacement, refund or repurchase as no cost to the consumer.


In some cases, the recalled product might contain parts that can be safely reused or recycled, known as “substantial disposal of products.”

For example, Samsung chose to recycle its Galaxy Note 7, a defective phone that contained a battery that could overheat and explode. Samsung recalled the device and sent it to an EPA-certified recycling facility. The defective battery was removed and the phone’s components were recycled.

However, if a product contains a harmful or deadly component, such as a toxic substance, the product cannot be recycled.


When the product is toxic or dangerous in nature, the federal agency charged with overseeing its recall may require the manufacturer to destroy it. Sometimes this process may require defective products to be stored and treated before they are destroyed.

Contact a Defective Product Lawyer in Knoxville

If you were harmed by a dangerous or defective product, do not hesitate to check its recall status online to find out if you may have a valid claim against the manufacturer.

At Greg Coleman Law, our Tennessee personal injury attorneys are committed to protecting the rights and safety of consumers and will provide you with a free, no obligation consultation to determine if you have legal options against a negligent manufacturer.

We will investigate your claim and pursue the at-fault party on a contingency fee basis, which means you only have to pay us if we help recover compensation for your claim.

Call (865) 247-0080 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation.