(Adds comment from Michaels statement)
By Jonathan Stempel and Lindsay Dunsmuir
April 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Tuesday sued Michaels Stores Inc, accusing the largest U.S. arts and crafts specialty retailer of failing to report a serious safety hazard that caused imported glass vases it sold, and which were later recalled, to shatter in customers' hands.
In a complaint filed in Dallas federal court, the government said the walls of the 20-inch vases were too thin to withstand normal handling, causing injuries such as lacerations, nerve damage and severed tendons that often required stitches or surgery.
The government said Michaels knew of the danger as early as September 2008 but did not alert the Consumer Product Safety Commission until February 2010, and in doing so falsely conveyed that another company had imported the vases, which were made in China.
It said this allowed Michaels to avoid legal responsibility for a recall, which occurred in September 2010 and covered about 212,000 vases sold in the United States and Canada. Michaels sold the vases from 2006 to 2010, the government said.
"We believe that Michaels chose to profit from selling defective vases that put people at risk," CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye said in a statement. "To protect the public, companies are required to report potential product hazards and risks to CPSC on a timely basis. That means within 24 hours, not more than a year as in Michaels' case."
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and injunctive relief, including more timely reporting of potential product defects.
In a statement, Michaels said it believes the facts will show it acted "promptly and appropriately," and added that "our customers' safety is our top concern." Michaels' parent is Michaels Cos.
As of Jan. 31, the Irving, Texas-based company owned and operated 1,168 of its namesake stores in the United States and Canada, as well as 120 Aaron Brothers stores.
The case is U.S. v. Michaels Stores Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, No. 15-01203.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese and Anupama Dwivedi