The appliances that we keep in our homes are meant to reliably serve a particular function and not cause any stress. However, when an appliance is defectively made or poorly designed, it can pose a serious risk to its owners and their homes and families.
If a defective appliance breaks or malfunctions and hurts someone or destroys property, the victims deserve to be compensated by the company responsible. The products liability lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian in Philadelphia can help recover that compensation with their vigorous and aggressive legal representation.
Types of Appliances in the Average Home
Every home, regardless of whether it is owned or rented, is full of appliances both large and small. Each and every one of them carries the chance of malfunction and causing serious problems. The most common appliances that we use or encounter every day include the following.
- Cooking stoves
- Garbage disposals in a kitchen sink
- Slow cookers and crock-pots
- Heating stoves, like a wood-burning stove or a propane stove
- Lighting fixtures
- Hot water heaters
Each of these appliances can be defective and malfunction in ways that put people at risk. Each of them can also be misused in ways that endanger people, especially children who may not know how to properly use them. Just because a home appliance was misused, though, does not mean that all of the fault falls on the person who ended up getting hurt. Poorly designed appliances invite misuse by the unwary or the inexperienced, and can even be counter-intuitive enough that experienced adults do not use them properly.
How Appliances Can Be Defective
There are three ways a household appliance can be defective, with each type being based on when and how the defect arose.
- The appliance was defectively designed, making the defect pre-date the product's manufacture and release.
- The appliance was defectively manufactured in a way that does not comply with the design.
- There were either problems with the marketing or promotional materials that overstated the appliance's capacity, or with the warnings about the appliance's potential for danger.
Any of these issues can lead to a situation where someone gets seriously hurt. The precise factual scenario that led to the accident can determine who was negligent and responsible and who should be held legally liable for the costs of the accident. This is especially true of household appliances that are complicated and have lots of different parts that were made by an assortment of manufacturers.
Design defects are the least common sources of an injury caused by a household appliance. However, when there is a design defect in an appliance, it means that there could be hundreds or potentially even thousands of victims who have been hurt in the same way. Design defects, after all, plague all of the particular appliances that were made according to the design. Everyone who has bought a particular model of dishwasher that was defectively designed is at risk and could get hurt.
Appliances are defectively designed whenever they create a foreseeable risk for the people who are using them. Victims who get hurt by a defectively designed appliance in Pennsylvania, though, do not have to prove that there was a feasible alternative design.
A manufacturing defect happens when a perfectly good design goes to the factory, but the product that comes out does not conform to specifications. In some cases, a single defective product comes out with a dangerous condition, like a critically important screw that is missing. In other cases, the manufacturers cut corners or used inferior parts on a whole swath of appliances, putting hundreds of dangerous products on the market.
When these variances from the design put innocent consumers at risk and then that risk manifests itself with an injury or an accident, it can lead to liability and compensation for the victims.
Defective Advertising or Failure to Warn Buyers of the Risks
Finally, there are advertising defects, also known as failure to warn defects. While companies can be held liable for advertising that their appliances can do something that is completely beyond their means, it is more common for people to get hurt by the company's failure to warn them of the risks of using the appliance.
In Pennsylvania, the warnings provided on a household appliance have to be “adequate.” While they do not have to warn people of very clear risks or those that are generally known to average users, they do still have to point out the different ways for something to go wrong with the appliance.
Unfortunately, what is a “clear” risk or what kinds of risks are “generally known” are very often matters for debate. Victims often face claims that “everyone knows” not to do the thing that led to their injuries, even when that was clearly not the case.
How Particular Appliances Can Be Defective and Dangerous
Because different appliances work differently, each poses its own type of risks to innocent owners. Some tend to cause fires, while others are more likely to flood a house. Still others can cause potentially fatal electric shocks.
Here are some of the most serious appliance defects that can hurt innocent people.
Refrigerators Can Cause Fires
It might sound counterintuitive that an appliance designed to keep things cool can actually lead to a serious fire, but that is the case with refrigerators.
In fact, the deadly Grenfell Town Fire in London in 2017 was caused by a defective refrigerator. Testimony given in the fallout from that event, which killed 72 people and destroyed a 24-story apartment building, suggested that a relay wiring in a refrigerator on the fourth floor was not fitted properly. The electrical resistance that this caused likely led to the plastic insulation igniting. Because refrigerators in England only have to have a plastic backing – rather than the metal backing necessary in the U.S. – the ignited insulation spread heat outside of the appliance and to the rest of the building.
In the U.S., refrigerators were the leading cause of kitchen fires besides cooking equipment. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), over 58% of the 2,920 home structure fires involving kitchen equipment that happened between 2006 and 2010 were caused by refrigerators, separate freezers, or separate ice makers.
These fires caused by refrigerators caused two deaths, 56 injuries, and $50 million in property damage.
Dishwashers Can Flood
When dishwashers are poorly designed or were not made well enough to contain the water that they fill up with, they can flood out and cause significant damage. While the odds that a flooded dishwasher will cause a physical injury or fatality are low, the property damage that they can cause should not be overlooked. This is especially true if the dishwasher leaked water in ways that were not apparent. The problem could have persisted for months or even years and created structural problems or mold.
Just because there was not a physical injury does not mean that it cannot form the basis for a products liability case. Property damage can also be recovered in a lawsuit.
Dishwashers Can Also Cause Fires
In addition to flooding, dishwashers can also cause fires. Faulty wiring led to the dishwasher overheating during use so often that over 600,000 were recalled back in 2017. The fact that the fires only occurred during use mitigated the damage that they caused, though – with the owner likely still in the house, they could take steps to put the fire out, call the fire department, and minimize the loss.
Nevertheless, the report by the NFPA found that dishwashers were the second-leading cause of home structure fires in the kitchen, behind only refrigerators. Between 2006 and 2010, dishwashers caused 1,130 fires, two deaths, 19 injuries, and $23 million in property damage.
Defective Furnaces Can Create a Serious Fire
Furnace fires are a serious threat because furnaces are out of sight, are often in the basement near structural support beams, and burn especially hot. If not handled appropriately and very quickly, they can easily burn an entire house down.
When a furnace is designed in a way that lets its sides get hot when it is used over long periods of time or that does not adequately insulate the wiring that run inside and outside its walls, it can lead to a fire that would have been caused by the company that made it.
Dryers Can Cause Burn Injuries, Especially to Children
Clothes dryers are designed to produce enough dry heat that the clothes inside dry far quicker than if they were hung out to dry. That heat, though, needs to be contained effectively and dispersed safely.
This often means that many of the parts on a dryer are made of metal. That metal gets hot during the drying cycle and can pose a threat to people who are unaware of the risks. Even people who know that the metal can get hot can forget the danger because there is often no visual sign. Innocent people who brush up against the metal or lean on it while they unload laundry can suffer a significant burn injury.
Children are especially prone to a burn injury by a hot dryer because they are far more likely to be completely oblivious to the risk. The scarring that they can suffer if the burn is serious can be a lifelong issue.
Compensation for Victims in Philadelphia
When a household appliance has a defect that causes an accident or hurts someone, the victim can be entitled to compensation. There was, after all, little that they could have done to prevent their injury or mitigate their damage. However, most companies that design, produce, and sell appliances are not going to cover a victim's losses on their own. Even when they offer compensation after an accident caused by one of their products, what they initially offer is only a fraction of what the victim deserves.
Filing a products liability claim is often necessary to force the company into taking the situation seriously. Until they are sued, most appliance manufacturers will not even listen to complaints about their products.
Victims are entitled to a full package of financial coverage – compensation that covers all of their losses, not just what the negligent company says was lost. This includes:
- Property damage
- Medical bills for injuries suffered in the accident, both from the past and those that are expected in the future for ongoing care
- Lost wages
- Living expenses, if the accident forced the victim and their family to live somewhere else for a period of time
- Emotional distress
- Physical pain
- Mental anguish
Two Years for Victims to File a Products Liability Lawsuit
Victims who were hurt by a defective household appliance in Philadelphia – or anywhere else in the rest of Pennsylvania, for that matter – have to abide by the statute of limitations set out in 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524 when they file their claim for compensation. This law requires all of these claims to be filed before two years have passed since the incident. The point of the law is to make sure victims file a lawsuit before the evidence is lost or people forget what happened. It also allows defendant companies to relax in the knowledge that they will not be sued, once the statute of limitations has expired.
Just because victims have two years to file the lawsuit, though, does not mean that they should wait until then to see a lawyer. Lawsuits take time to put together. Talking to a lawyer with only a week left to file is a bad idea.
Gilman & Bedigian: Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers Helping Victims of Defective Household Appliances
The lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help victims who have been hurt by defective household appliances in Philadelphia. Contact them online to get started on your case today.