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Defective Household Appliances

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, says that major appliances cause more than 150,000 residential fires each year, resulting in 3,670 injuries, 150 deaths, and $547 million dollars in property damage. It is imperative to discuss specifics with a products liability lawyer if you have been the victim of injury due to defective products. They will be able to discuss your situation and help you further if you have a case.

Certainly human error certainly plays a role, especially in fires involving cooking appliances and clothes dryers. But when Consumer Reports conducted an in-depth analysis of federal fire data, they discovered only about half of appliance fires could be actually be blamed on human mistakes, such as unattended cooking, or natural causes such as storms or animals. 50% of the rest appear to be due to problems with the appliances themselves, according to the review of safety records, fire reports, and court documents. Among the findings:

  • More than 15 million appliance units have been recalled in the past five years for defects that could cause a fire, with 1,942 incidents reported. Almost half of the recalled units were dishwashers. The large number of recalls is a sobering reminder of how important it is for consumers to register their products with manufacturers so that they receive notices if the product is recalled.
  • Recalled products aren't the only concern. The analyzed data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) from 2002 through 2009, the latest available, it was discovered there were more than 69,000 fires in which an appliance was the primary cause. Digging deeper, at least 15,700 fires clearly linked to problems with a product, much greater than the instances involved in recalls. The number could be closer to 35,000 considering cases in which there were either no contributing causes or they were undetermined.
  • Companies that are taken to court by consumers over defective products frequently use legal tactics to keep safety information secret. If the companies petition, courts will often shield safety information included in pretrial discovery. And if companies settle a lawsuit, the agreements are often confidential.
  • More safety measures could be built into appliances to help prevent fires. Early-warning technologies are possible for some appliances, such as clothes dryers, which had 13,723 fires in analysis of NFIRS data. Lint buildup was cited as a factor in 2,609 of those cases.

Sadly, there has been a race to the bottom in terms of cheap parts and disposable products.

Increased complexity creates more opportunity for Defective Appliances

More than 7 million dishwasher units have been involved in CPSC recalls over the past five years because of fire, including 2.5 million GE dishwashers.

Appliance design has come a long way from the days of pilot lights, rotating dials, and push-button controls. You'd be hard-pressed to find a gas range today without electronic ignition or a microwave oven that doesn't have touchpad controls. Those innovations make appliances easier to use, but the complexity can also lead to other problems.

If you compare a first-generation blender that had only an on/off switch with one today that has 14 speeds and a data-storage center [microprocessor], there's a lot more that can go wrong with the newer unit.

One of the biggest appliance recalls happened to be 1.6 million Maytag refrigerators that were recalled in March 2009 because of an electrical failure in the relay, the component that turns on the compressor. Another massive recall was for 2.5 million GE dishwashers in May 2007, with 191 reports of overheated wiring because of a short circuit. In 12 cases, fire spread beyond the dishwasher.

There were several cases of devices that turned on by themselves, including the October 2010 recall of 122,000 Electrolux-manufactured cooktops and ranges that unexpectedly auto-started if liquids pooled under their control knobs. The 70 reported incidents included three fires resulting in property damage and three that caused burns to humans. Hamilton Beach toasters were recently recalled because they could turn on immediately when first plugged in.

Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides more extensive information on fires and their causes, collecting fire reports from about 23,000 departments nationwide. 1.6 million fire records and more than 69,000 appliance fires in single-family and multifamily dwellings were cataloged. When human error and natural conditions, such as damage from storms or animals are excluded there were 35,297 cases were due to electrical, mechanical, or design problems. More than 15,700 fires were clearly attributable to those problems, and much of the remainder probably were because the appliance was identified as the primary source of ignition, with contributing causes listed as "none" or "undetermined."

The Bottom Line about Safety with Defective Household Appliances

The majority of safety standards for appliances are voluntary, developed by a consensus of consumer groups, government agencies, producers, retailers, and suppliers. UL and other testing labs certify products for companies to make sure they meet certain standards. ASTM International and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) provide a framework to develop those standards.

Manufacturers have made significant design enhancements in the past to improve safety - automatic shut-off on coffeemakers, for example, and the antijamming mechanics on toasters. But there's a lot more that could be done to improve appliance safety.

In the meantime, the guardian that stands for you against the array of defective household appliances and their makers happens to be Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys.

John Bisnar is a partner at Newport Beach Personal Injury Law Firm Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys. The lawyers Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys has dedicated their practice to victims of serious injuries due to defective products, negligence and malpractice. Visit the main website at or call 949-203-3814. Contact us today if you believe you have experienced a defective household appliance.

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