Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Amazon reviews show a Shimano SPD pedal has a safety defect. Do Amazon and Shimano have a duty to report under US law?

I’ve sent two sets of Amazon purchased SPD pedals to Shimano for warranty replacement in the past month. I’d used each set for 2-3 months when they developed bearing clicks.

That could be bad luck, or it could be Shimano has lost control of its Chinese manufacturing pipeline. I’m just too small a sample to know.

But that’s not what I’m curious about.

I’m curious about Shimano’s apparent disinterest in the Amazon reviews of the Shimano PD-A530 SPD Dual Platform Bike Pedal. Many reviewers, over several years, have described the same safety issue I ran into. These pedals have two sides, a flat side for shoes and a “cleat” (confusingly these are called “clipless pedals") side that locks onto metal tabs attached to bicycle shoes. The clip lock setting is far too tight, at the default setting it’s quite difficult to remove a shoe from the pedal. Maybe the spring is the wrong tension, maybe there’s some other design error, but this is dangerous. Reviewers report falling over in traffic due to excessively tight clips.

The workaround is to set the adjustment bolt to its minimum setting (though the bolt is more cheaply made than other SPD pedals, so you have to work it a bit to make sure the nut slides down). On every other SPD pedal I’ve worn over about 15-20 years this would be too slack, but on these pedals it’s about right. Of course a lot of cyclists won’t know to do this, or won’t immediately recognize that the pedals are miscalibrated. It’s a persistent safety defect.

Under US law both Shimano and Amazon have a duty to report safety defects...

Duty to Report to CPSC: Rights and Responsibilities of Businesses |

If you are a manufacturer, importer, distributor, and/or retailer of consumer products, you have a legal obligation to immediately report the following types of information to the CPSC:

… A defective product that could create a substantial risk of injury to consumers...

… Failure to fully and immediately report this information may lead to substantial civil or criminal penalties.  CPSC staff’s advice is "when in doubt, report.” ...


What if I receive information that reasonably suggests my product could create a safety or health hazard but no reports have been received alleging that actual harm or injury has been suffered?

You must immediately report the information about the product. The law does not require injury or harm to have occurred….

It’s clear these pedals have a defect, though a defense lawyer would argue about “substantial risk of injury”. After all, it’s the nature of clipless pedals to reduce foot-to-ground time, and a lawyer would argue that only knowledgeable people should buy a clipless pedal, and thus know how to adjust them.

It would be unwise, however, to rely on the kindness of US courts. I suspect if Shimano’s lawyers read the Amazon reviews they’d recommend doing a (confidential) CPSC report and fixing the darned pedals. Judging by the age of the reviews, however, they haven’t done the latter.

Which is interesting. Why doesn’t Shimano read Amazon reviews of its products? And what are Amazon’s obligations as a distributor or retailer?

Great questions for a law school class ...

Update 8/5/2016: Shimano sent me a replacement for the clicking PD-AF530 pedal. After less than 10 months of light use it developed a severe creak/click. Trash.

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