Refrigerators may be a kitchen appliance dedicated to keeping food cold, but a wide variety of defects can turn your refrigerator into a fire hazard. If you have been injured by a defective refrigerator, you may be entitled to compensation from the manufacturer of the refrigerator, the manufacturer of the defective part, the distributor, or the retailer.
Refrigerator defects are one of the most frequent causes of house fires by kitchen equipment not used for cooking. For example, in June 2018, a Hotpoint refrigerator was linked to one of Britain’s deadliest fires, which killed at least 79 people in a London housing complex. In the U.S., the National Fire Protection Association estimated that annually from 2006-2010 there were 2,920 house fires involving kitchen equipment, excluding cooking equipment. Those fires resulted in six reported civilian deaths, 82 civilian injuries, and $75 million in direct property damage.
More than half of those home fires – 59 percent — specifically involved refrigerators, freezers and ice makers, and began with ignition of appliance housing or the wire or cable insulation. According to the NFPA, those appliances were involved in an estimated 49,660 injuries reported to hospital emergency rooms in 2011 — most of which involved sprains, contusions or abrasions, lacerations, or fractures.
Refrigerators have heaters and use a substantial amount of electrical current. Fires often start in the electrical components, and spread through the appliance’s plastic parts.
Refrigerator defects may include:
- Defective wiring: A defect in the wiring of your refrigerator could spark a fire. A fire could ignite and spread quickly via the plastic components inside the refrigerator.
- Defective door: A defect with the door can cause it to come off.
- Compressor defect: A defective part in the compressor can cause overheating.
- Defective light: If a light fails to go off when a refrigerator is closed, the light can get hot enough to melt the plastic components.
Making Refrigerators Safer for Consumers
There are no mandatory safety standards for refrigerators. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which regulates refrigerators and other consumer products, publicizes manufacturers’ voluntary recalls and has regulatory authority to compel a manufacturer to recall a defective product.
To learn more about refrigerator recalls and safety, go to:
- cpsc.gov: This CPSC website maintains a recall list for consumers to check if there is a recall on a certain refrigerator.
- saferproducts.gov: This CPSC website has a key-word searchable database where the public can report problems with, read consumer complaints about, and find recall notices regarding refrigerators.
Refrigerator recalls since 2009 include:
- In November 2013, Viking recalled about 750 built-in side-by-side refrigerator freezers with in-door water/ice dispensers. An electrical component in the freezers can overheat.
- In March 2011, Liebherr recalled around 5,700 built-in 30-inch wide freezer refrigerators because the door can detach. About 8,000 more units were recalled in November 2011.
- In December 2010, Fagor America Inc. recalled about 1,400 refrigerators because the control board can overheat.
- In January 2010, Liebherr recalled around 72,000 built-in 24-inch wide single-door refrigerators because the door can detach.
- In June 2009, Viking Range Corporation recalled about 45,000 built-in side-by-side refrigerators/freezers and refrigerators with bottom freezers because the refrigerator door can come off. The recall was expanded in July 2013 to include around 31,000 more units.
- In March 2009, Maytag recalled 1.6 million Maytag, Jenn-Air, Amana, Admiral, Magic Chef, and Performa refrigerators because of an electrical failure in the relay that turns on the compressor. The problem can cause overheating. The recall was expanded to include 46,000 more units in August 2009.
Filing a Product Liability Suit Based on a Defective Refrigerator
A product liability lawsuit involving a defective consumer product, such as a refrigerator, may be based on three types of defects:
- A design defect: A defect that is built into the inner workings and functions of the product. This occurs during the design and development phase, long before the product is manufactured.
- A manufacturing defect: A defect that occurs during the production of the component parts or the assembly of the product.
- A marketing defect: A defect related to the manufacturer’s failure to provide adequate instructions on the proper and safe use of a product, adequate warnings against safety hazards of the product, or information about the safety risks associated with its use.
Your lawyer may pursue a defective product claim against a manufacturer, retailer or distributor based on one of three theories:
- Strict liability: When a products liability case is based on strict liability, you do not have to prove the manufacturer’s negligence. You must prove only that the product was defective and that the defect caused your injury.
- Negligence: When a products liability case is based on negligence, you must prove the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer did not exercise the care that would be considered reasonable by other entities in their shoes – in legal terms, the “standard of care.”
- Breach of warranty: When a products liability case is based on breach of warranty, you must prove that the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer violated an implied warranty — their assurances that a product is safe when it is used as it was intended.
Manufacturers, distributors and retailers may defend against these claims by arguing the following:
- The statute of limitation: Each state limits how long after suffering a product-related injury a consumer may file a products liability suit. These statutes of limitation vary, ranging from one to six years.
- The statute of repose: Each state limits how long a product can be considered defective after it has been manufactured or sold. In other words, after a certain period, the law presumes the product is too old to be held liable for a defect. The statute of repose is usually a much longer period than the statute of limitations. It also varies by state, ranging from six to 20 years. Many states have a 10- or 12-year statute of repose.
- Misuse of a product: A manufacturer may argue that you did not use the oven in a proper manner.
- Alteration of a product: A manufacturer may argue that you modified the product.
Recovering Damages in a Product Liability Suit
If you are injured by a defective refrigerator, you may be able to recover compensation from the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer. These might include:
- Your medical expenses (both past and present), your lost earnings, and your loss of future earning capacity (what you could have earned had you not been injured)
- Compensation for your pain and suffering
- Punitive damages, which are damages that punish the manufacturer for its conduct
You may file a wrongful death action if your spouse, child, or other relative is injured by a defective product. You can receive the compensation the decedent would have received. In addition, you may receive compensation for your loss of companionship with the decedent.
If you have been injured by a defective refrigerator, call Newsome Melton at 888-808-5977 for a free consultation or make an appointment on our website.