Oregon ax maker settles with feds for $2.6 million

PORTLAND, Ore. — Fiskars Brands Inc. has agreed to pay $2.6 million to settle allegations that safety regulators weren’t promptly alerted about a potentially defective ax made by the company’s Oregon-based subsidiary.

Federal prosecutors say Gerber Legendary Blades, based in Tigard, started receiving complaints within months of releasing the Gator Combo Axe in 2005. It reported potential hazards five years later and later issued a recall.

Court documents show customers complained that a knife secured by magnets inside the ax handle would slide out and slice them, The Oregonian reported. Consumer protection laws require manufacturers to alert regulators immediately after they learn about a product defect that poses a “substantial risk” of injury.

The settlement was announced Wednesday by the U.S. attorney’s office in Portland. It awaits court approval.

The Oregonian was unable to reach Gerber spokesmen Wednesday, and the company’s office was closed Thursday.

The company reported potential hazards with the ax to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2010 and issued a voluntary recall the next year. Customers were offered a cap for the ax’s handle.

One man filed suit against the company in April 2009, saying he suffered permanent wrist injuries, including nerve damage, when the knife fell from the ax and cut him, according to the federal complaint. Another customer informed the company in July 2010 that he suffered severe nerve damage and lost some use of his hand.

One woman grew so concerned after injuring herself with the ax that she wrote to company in August 2009 and strongly urged it “to recall and discontinue this product ASAP,” according to the complaint.

In addition to the penalty, Fiskars agreed to set up a program to track product safety hazards. The company did not admit breaking any laws.

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