Falling tomato plants have injured 155 Americans so far this year as China-built stands for growing the fruit in hanging bags have collapsed on gardeners and bystanders, federal officials said.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced today a recall of 82,000 Topsy-Turvy Deluxe Tomato Planters and Stands. The devices were imported by Allstar Marketing Group L.L.C., of Hawthorne, N.Y., and sold by Liberty Media Holding Corp.'s QVC Inc. division, of West Chester, through its TV and Internet programs and stores, for $30 each in March and April.
When assembled, each contraption stands six feet tall, holds 30 pounds of dirt, and balances on three metal legs. The commission counted "347 reports of the planters collapsing" and said that "155 consumers have reported injuries including lacerations, broken toes and bruises," plus property damage.
"The last thing we wanted was for someone to get hurt," said Bill Felknor, of Felknor Ventures L.L.C., in Knoxville, Tenn. Felknor said that he had invented both the planter and the stand that holds it, and that his firm had licensed them to Hawthorne, which developed the product with QVC.
Felknor said gardeners were warned to be careful with the system once it had been assembled. "We tell people not to move it," he said. "When it gets up to 40 pounds and people want to change it, it's so heavy it would spring the legs." But he declined "to blame this on our customers. This is our mistake."
He said his firm was reviewing plans to add a fourth leg, make the legs broader, add a base that could hold sand or water, and lower the center of gravity, among other fixes. "I don't care what it costs, it's going to be a safe product," he said.
He said the planter had been tested rigorously by QVC, and "they never caught this."
QVC was cooperating with the recall, commission spokeswoman Patty Davis said. She declined to say how the agency first learned of the injuries.
"We believe QVC will be able to contact most if not all of its customers," Davis said. The commission is urging anyone with a planter and stand who has not heard from the company to "stop using the planters and call the company and get their refund."
QVC spokeswoman Tara Hunter said that the company had tested the planters in development and that it later identified the problem and cooperated with the commission after getting complaints from customers. Hunter said she could not comment on plans for an improved version. "We sent recall packages to all the customers who purchased it, with return envelopes," she said.
Ann Flynn, marketing director for Allstar, did not return calls seeking comment.