After initially refusing to recall its Tread+ treadmills when they were linked to one child’s death and multiple reports of injuries, Peloton has had a mea culpa and is finally taking steps to ensure the safety of its customers, their children and their pets. For a company whose brand message is “Tap into motivation whenever your want it” ― it is noteworthy that it took almost three weeks of public shaming to motivate Peloton to do the right thing.
Peloton’s challenges with motivation began after the death of a 6-year-old child who was pulled under the Tread+, an incident that was widely publicized in March 2021. The tragic accident prompted the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to request information from Peloton, which then disclosed that there had been other accidents and injuries under similar circumstances.
As a result of the CPSC investigation, Peloton was asked to recall the Tread+ (formerly known as the Tread), which retailed for $4,300. The recall would have affected about 125,000 machines and an additional 1,050 Tread products in the United States. Peloton ― which according to subsequent news reports expected its fiscal fourth-quarter sales to take a $165 million hit from a recall ― said “no.” The company, which pioneers in high-end, high-tech exercise equipment with workouts streamed live and on-demand, was fully within its legal rights to refuse a recall under an ineffectual set of federal laws that protect manufacturers at the expense of consumer safety.
Contrary to popular belief, federal safety regulators are powerless to order Peloton ― or any other company ― to recall an unsafe product. It is hoped that companies will do right by their customers when safety issues arise. But when they don’t, the CPSC must file a lawsuit and engage in what almost certainly will be protracted litigation to attempt to force a recall. With no good options to immediately get the Tread+ out of people’s homes, the CPSC did what it could within the constraints of the law: On April 17, 2021, the CPSC issued an “urgent warning” for consumers to stop using the Tread+.
The warning ― which cited 39 reported incidents including the one child’s death ― advised that children were becoming “entrapped, pinned, and pulled” under the treadmill’s rear roller and were at serious risk for abrasions, fractures and death. It included a link to a graphic video showing a young child getting caught beneath the Tread+ while playing near it with another child, apparently unsupervised. Moreover, it cautioned that even adult users were at risk because they could lose balance when pets and objects get sucked beneath the machinery.
But here again, federal law tilts in favor of manufacturers. The CPSC was required by law to include Peloton’s response with its warning, and Peloton forcibly pushed back. It characterized the warning as a “unilateral press release” that was “inaccurate and misleading.” It assured consumers that the Tread+ was safe for use so long as consumers follow the warnings and safety instructions provided with the equipment. Those instructions included keeping children, pets and objects away from the machine at all times. Peloton further argued that all motorized exercise equipment can pose hazards if warnings and safety instructions are not followed.
But the problem with Peloton’s position was that the Tread+ was designed differently than other treadmills. Compared with other model treadmills, the Tread+ had “an unusual belt design that uses individual rigid rubberized slats or treads that are interlocked and ride on a rail,” according to the CPSC. There was a large gap between the belt and the floor, which made it easy for things ― including children and pets ― to get caught in the open space. “This doesn’t happen with other treadmills,” a CPSC official told The Washington Post. “It is a different hazard pattern than is typically seen.” And, of course, safety instructions and product warnings will not keep people safe when the product, itself, is not designed safely.
Not surprisingly, after Peloton dug in against a voluntary recall, its situation deteriorated on multiple fronts: PR, safety and financial. News reports emerged that a 3-year-old boy suffered a significant brain injury after he was found trapped under a Tread+. His father found him breathing and pulseless with tread marks on his back matching the slats of the treadmill, a neck injury, and marks on his face.
Also, a video, which initially circulated on TikTok, came to light showing a large exercise ball getting sucked beneath the Tread+ while a user ran on the machine unaware of what had happened as the machine suddenly tipped forward into what appears to be a glass patio door, which fortunately did not break. Upon slamming into the door, the treadmill tipped backward, and the user fell off. Luckily, she landed on her feet.
She later said: “Thank god that nothing happened because there are so many other directions that this situation could have gone.” The video shows both a young child and a dog near the treadmill when it tipped.
All the while, Peloton’s founder and CEO, John Foley, doubled-down, stating publicly that the company had “no intention” of recalling the Tread+ or stopping sales. Rather than acknowledging Peloton’s responsibility to design a safe product, he attempted to shift responsibility to Peloton’s customers to “stay vigilant” to prevent injuries. Peloton’s stock price tumbled, as Foley denied that there was any problem.
Even lawmakers got involved. On April 22, 2021, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) introduced the Sunshine in Product Safety Act, which would eliminate regulatory constraints that prevent or delay the CPSC from warning consumers about dangerous products. The bill specifically addresses Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act, which in addition to hamstringing the CPSC in its ability to warn about the Tread+, has also in recent years delayed the agency from warning about deadly incidents linked to inclined infant sleepers and IKEA dressers. For more information about Section 6(b) CLICK HERE. The bill is presently before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. A similar bill introduced in the 116th Congress did not receive a vote.
With the heat turned up on multiple fronts, Peloton finally succumbed. On May 5, 2021, Peloton agreed to recall the Tread+. The recall notice cites the one child’s death and more than 70 reported incidents (almost double the number of reported incidents cited by the CPSC in its warning nearly three weeks prior).
Consumers are advised to immediately stop using the Tread+ and to contact Peloton for a full refund until November 6, 2022. Consumers who return the Tread+ after that date will receive a partial refund. For consumers who do not want a refund, Peloton is offering the option of moving the Tread+ free of charge to a room where children or pets cannot access the treadmill. Peloton also released a software update on May 19, 2021, to automatically lock the Tread+ after each use and prevent unauthorized access by assigning a four-digit passcode that will be required to unlock it.
When the recall was announced, Foley apologized for Peloton’s clash with the CPSC. “I want to be clear, Peloton made a mistake in our initial response to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s request that we recall the Tread+,” Foley said in a public statement. “We should have engaged more productively with them from the outset. For that, I apologize.”
Alan M. Feldman, a co-founding partner and product liability attorney at Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock Dodig LLP, said that while he is pleased that Peloton has finally recalled the Tread+, it is simply unacceptable that it required a public shaming to convince Peloton to take action.
“Rather than working constructively with the CPSC to promptly recall an unsafely designed product that had caused injury and death, Peloton tried to shift responsibility to consumers, which is outrageous. We urge lawmakers to amend the Consumer Product Safety Act to allow the CPSC to take unilateral action to remove dangerous products from homes when manufacturers refuse to act responsibly,” said Feldman.
Feldman said existing law in most states requires that products be safe for their intended as well as expected use, and it should have been completely foreseeable to Peloton that a treadmill sold for home use may be accessible to children. He said Peloton could potentially bear legal liability if defective product design caused children to get sucked beneath the machine, and recommends contacting a product liability attorney immediately if your child was injured by a Tread+.
The product liability team at Feldman Shepherd, which also includes partners Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis, has achieved substantial recoveries on behalf of individuals injured by dangerous products, with a particular focus on products that harm children and infants.
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