WASHINGTON – Black & Decker has agreed to pay the Consumer Product Safety Commission $575,000 to settle charges that the company failed to report fire- causing defects in an under-the-cabinet toaster it began selling in 1994.
Baltimore-based Black & Decker no longer makes the Spacemaker Optima toaster, which the CPSC said was responsible for starting at least 1,066 fires and burning eight people.
In the settlement, Black & Decker denied that its original Spacemaker toaster contained any defect that could cause a “substantial” hazard or that the company violated any CPSC reporting requirements. The CPSC had alleged that while Black & Decker provided some documentation on the toaster’s problems after initial complaints were filed, it failed to turn over all of the consumer complaints or engineering documents that identified design problems with the toaster.
“We are continuing to work with the CPSC on this matter, and so at this point we will have no comment,” said Barbara Lucas, a spokeswoman for Black & Decker.
The CPSC also declined to comment before mid-December, when the settlement is expected to become official. But in the settlement, which was published Monday in the Federal Register, the CPSC said that, “By failing to provide the information, Black & Decker misled the staff and impeded its investigation and analysis of the risk,” associated with the toaster.
The toaster was made to be mounted under a cabinet and it was originally designed to automatically open and move the food tray forward when cooking was complete. But the CPSC said that the automatic toaster door often spread simple food fires to nearby cabinets, by allowing oxygen in to feed the flames.
Although the company voluntarily recalled the roughly 230,000 problematic toasters in October 1997, the CPSC was not satisfied. The agency filed suit to improve the recall program and a settlement was reached on that issue in April 1998.
Meanwhile, Black & Decker had already begun selling a second, redesigned Spacemaker toaster, which did not have similar problems, according to Lucas.
None of the toasters were manufactured at Black & Decker’s plant in Easton, which only makes power tools.
Lucas said Black & Decker stopped manufacturing the second toaster in early 1998, the same year that the company sold its entire household products division.
A 15-day public comment period on the settlement agreement ends Dec. 14. If no one opposes the settlement by then, it will become final.