Federal prosecutors and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have filed a lawsuit against SunSetter Products LP for failing to immediately recall dangerous motorized awning covers.
SunSetter makes motorized retractable awnings for outdoor use. Along with the awnings, SunSetter provided a vinyl cover with bungee tie-downs to protect the awning when it was not in use.
Because the awning is above human height, consumers must use a ladder or a stool to put on the cover or remove it.
The problem is that in some cases, when the consumer removes the bungee tie-downs, the awning can suddenly spring open so violently that it knocks over anyone in its path.
This is particularly dangerous for people standing on a ladder or a stool, because they can fall and suffer serious injuries or death.
According to the lawsuit, SunSetter was aware of this hazard as early as March 2012, when a consumer notified SunSetter that his awning sprang open when he removed the cover.
Over the next few years, there were 14 reports of the awnings springing open, including several injuries and one death.
Even so, SunSetter failed to report the defect to the CPSC until October 2017 — one month after SunSetter learned of a 72-year-old man who died when he was a knocked off a ladder and over a balcony as he removed the cover.
CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric accused SunSetter of failing to tell the commission about the safety hazard, as required by federal law:
“It took a tragic death and numerous other injuries before they finally took action — which is unacceptable. When a company continues to sell dangerous products — knowing they can cause injuries and death — it must be held accountable.”
A representative for SunSetter said the company denies the allegations in the lawsuit and it plans to vigorously defend the matter.
In August 2019, SunSetter recalled about 270,000 covers for their motorized awnings due to a risk of serious injuries or deaths.
The recalled covers were sold for about $100 or provided for free by SunSetter, through independent dealers nationwide, and through Costco Wholesale, between June 1999 and January 2019.
The lawsuit was filed on April 6, 2023 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts — United States of America v. SunSetter Products LP — Case Number 1:23-cv-10744.