According to the U.S. Fire Administration, clothes dryers are responsible for 2,900 residential fires nationwide, causing an average of five deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property damages annually. Carbon monoxide poisoning and gas leaks are also potential harms. Proper maintenance is key to reducing the fire risk — failure to clean the dryer was cited as the leading cause of these residential fires.
However, a design defect may be lurking. A U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) study showed that lint accumulates inside the dryer, even when the exhaust ducting is properly vented and the lint screen is routinely cleaned before each load. This lint build-up ignites when it accumulates near a hot surface, such as the heating element or heater housing. Dryers running at the hottest temperature setting when the exhaust vent is almost totally blocked significantly raised the temperature of the heating element.
A defective design can exacerbate this danger. Design defects include:
- A design that allows lint to accumulate too close to electrical heating coils, hidden from the consumer’s view and inaccessible for cleaning.
- Inoperable lint indicator devices that are supposed to warn you when lint has built up and blocked the vent.
- Loose or improperly installed hoses, seals, and connections that allow gas and carbon monoxide to leak.
Making Dryers Safer
The CPSC, which regulates clothes dryers and other household appliances, has worked with clothes dryer manufacturers to set voluntary safety standards, encourage appliance makers to include safety devices in their dryer designs, publicize manufacturers’ voluntary recalls, or use its regulatory authority to compel a manufacturer to recall a defective product.
To learn more about dryer recalls and dryer safety, go to:
- cpsc.gov: This CPSC website maintains a recall list for consumers to check if there is a recall on a certain dryer. Consumers can also learn about the Commission’s clothes dryer research and its work with manufacturers to make dryers safer.
- saferproducts.gov: This CPSC website has a key-word searchable database where the public can report problems with dryers, read consumer complaints about dryers, and find recall notices.
- Consumer Reports: This non-profit organization accepts no advertising and is generally considered to be an impartial source for consumers purchasing dryers.
- The National Fire Protection Association: This organization investigates the causes of fires and reports on the number caused by dryers.
You can reduce the chances of a dryer fire by following good safety practices:
- Have a professional install and service your dryer.
- Use the correct electrical cord and outlet.
- Replace plastic or foil accordion-style ducts.
- Clean the lint screen after each load.
- Clean vent hoses regularly.
- Clean the exhaust every three months.
- Clean the back of the dryer where lint can accumulate.
- Check the venting system behind the dryer for damage.
- Check to see if the outdoor vent cover opens while the dryer is running.
- Turn off the dryer before leaving the house or going to sleep.
- Have working fire detectors and a fire extinguisher in your home.
Recalls of Defective Clothes Dryers
Recalls of dryers over the past 10 years include:
- In August 2012, LG and Sears recalled about 21,000 LG Electronics and Kenmore Elite dryers that can overheat, posing a fire hazard. Both companies reported burns to users’ hands or arms.
- In May 2008, Miele recalled around 3,100 residential super-large gas dryers because of the risk of a gas leak or a fire. If the dryer is not installed properly, its internal gas fitting can loosen and cause a gas leak, that, if undetected, can cause asphyxiation, a fire, or an explosion. In addition, the caps on the internal exhaust duct of the dryer can become dislodged, posing a fire hazard caused by lint build-up entering the gas burner.
- In February 2008, General Electric recalled around 2,000 gas dryers because a short circuit in the wiring poses a shock hazard in ungrounded dryers.
Filing a Product Liability Lawsuit Based on a Defective Clothes Dryer
If you have been injured by a defective dryer, you can file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer to receive compensation for your injuries. A product liability lawsuit can be based on three theories:
- Strict liability
- Breach of warranty
If a product liability case is based on strict liability, you do not have to prove negligence. You must prove that the dryer was defective and that the defect caused your injury.
Defenses in a Product Liability Lawsuit Based on a Defective Dryer
A manufacturer may assert the following defenses in a product liability lawsuit:
- The statute of limitations: States impose a time limit on when you can file your product liability lawsuit from the date of your injury. The time limit varies from state to state, usually between two and four years.
- The statute of repose: Some states, including Florida, require a product liability lawsuit to be filed within so many years after the dryer was first sold. The time limit varies, but it is usually 10 or 12 years.
- Misuse of the product: The manufacturer may assert that you did not use your dryer as intended. For example, the manufacturer may contend that you allowed lint to accumulate in the dryer, causing a fire.