‘Company Doe’ wins challenge but loses anonymity — ruling makes it tougher to confront erroneous online claims

By George Gigounas and Rachael E Yourtz

A new decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal will require the lower court to unseal court documents, revealing the identity of a manufacturer that claims it was falsely implicated in a consumer report.

This case, stemming from the SaferProducts.gov online consumer product report database created under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, will make it harder for companies to challenge erroneous online reports regarding their products, while keeping the dispute anonymous to the public.

Under current rules, to limit the impact of false or clearly erroneous consumer claims, the Consumer Product Safety Commission notifies companies implicated by a consumer report about a potentially unsafe product. The company has limited time to object to the information in the claim and submit evidence to support the objection. If the company establishes its product was not the cause of any alleged harm, the commission must revise the database accordingly. This exchange of information is expedited, because the commission must publish the report within 20 days of submission…

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