According to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (1), home appliance accidents are responsible for over 150,000 emergency room visits each year.
Injuries from home appliances can be caused by design flaws, manufacturing errors, use of sub-standard materials, consumer abuse, failure to follow instructions, and use of appliances for non-recommended purposes. When home appliances fail, they can cause injuries ranging from minor cuts and bruises, to serious burns, and even death.
Appliances that commonly cause injury:
Electric ceiling fans
Ceiling fans are everywhere, and can be quite dangerous. Depending on the brand, ceiling fan blades rotate between 70 and 150 revolutions per minute.
Children are often injured by ceiling fans when picked up in the air by parents, family members or friends. When held up high, a child’s head may be put directly in the path of the blades. Adults are frequently injured while installing ceiling fans, connecting wires to hot electrical lines. Neglecting to cut off power can cause electrical shocks resulting in serious burns or electrocution.
Other ceiling fan injuries result from poor or improper maintenance. They can loosen from their base and fall several feet on top of adults or children, causing serious head injuries.
Refrigerators / Freezers
Refrigerators and freezers appear safe. What we don’t realize is they depend on complex machinery and dangerous chemicals to cool our food.
The compressor used to generate cold air pulls in a substantial amount of electricity. When the back of a refrigerator is exposed, so are its mechanical and electrical components. Electrical shorts and worn wiring can result in electrocution.
When refrigerant chemicals used to chill the air inside the unit leak, they can cause poisoning, unconsciousness and brain damage. When coils used to refrigerate food come in contact with an arm or hand, they can bind to the skin, causing damage.
Space heaters come in various forms and can run on electricity, kerosene, propane, and other fuels. Many homeowners use space heaters without realizing the serious danger they pose. They can produce enough heat to ignite flammable objects in close proximity, such as rugs, drapes, newspapers and magazines.
Many injuries and deaths related to space heaters result from fires, electrical shocks, and electrocutions caused by frayed and overloaded extension cords. Space heaters are also responsible for thousands of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Blenders, choppers, and food processors
The majority of injuries from blenders, choppers and food processors are lacerations to a users’ hands, fingers, and face. This commonly occurs when a user places their hands and fingers close to the blade, or when a blender’s glass container falls onto the counter or floor and shatters.
Stoves, oven ranges and toaster ovens
It’s obvious that stoves, ovens, and toaster ovens can be dangerous. Young children are more likely than adults to be injured by an oven. They’re often burned when reaching up to touch food cooking on a hot stove, or when they open oven doors and reach in.
While adults are less likely to be burned by an oven or stove, they are more likely to be injured by toaster ovens. The outside surfaces of some less expensive toaster ovens can heat up to over 400 degrees. Toaster oven injuries are usually to the hands, wrists, and stomach area (when bending over the oven).
While many stove and oven injuries occur because of human error, defective design or manufacturing flaws can also be responsible.
Most manufacturers have built in quality control procedures to identify and remove defective appliances before they make it to the marketplace. Unfortunately, dangerous appliances sometimes slip through manufacturers’ stringent reviews, ending up in consumers’ homes. Often the only way a manufacturer learns about a defect is after a consumer gets injured.
Manufacturers issue recalls mostly out of caution. They don’t want their products causing further injuries. They also don’t want to be sued because they failed to issue a recall after learning of a product defect.
Manufacturers will issue recall notices by notifying you directly (if you used your email or mailing address when purchasing the product), via newspaper and website publication, or all three.
In most cases, manufacturers substitute the defective appliance for a new model. In other cases, where the appliance is too large to be returned, a representative will go to your home to make the necessary repairs.
To find out more about current recalls, visit Recalls.gov
Who’s responsible for an appliance accident?
Due to strict quality control testing before products are available for retail sale, most home appliances are safe. Thus, most injuries occur because the consumer either failed to use the appliance in its intended way, abused it, failed to properly maintain it, or purposely ignored a manufacturer’s recall notice.
Despite quality control, some appliances still come off the assembly line with design or manufacturing flaws. When those flaws result in consumer injuries, the manufacturer and retailer may be liable.
Duty of Care
Appliance manufacturers have a legal duty of care to make sure their products don’t cause injuries to the public. If they fail in their duty, they are considered negligent and therefore responsible for any injuries their products cause.
If you’ve been injured by an appliance and want compensation from the manufacturer, the law requires you to prove several things:
- The appliance manufacturer had a duty to make a safe product
- The manufacturer was negligent and breached that duty
- The negligence was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries
- Your injuries resulted in compensable damages (such as medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering)
Once you receive a recall notice from the manufacturer or retailer, you have a legal duty to do everything possible to comply with the recall. If you don’t and are injured by the product, you may lose your right to compensation.
If you haven’t received a recall notice, and are injured while using the appliance safely, you may have grounds for a product liability claim. In that case, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Example: Disregarding a recall notice
Bob purchased a new blender from a national appliance retailer so he could make fruit smoothies. He used it daily for several months without problems.
One day, he received an email from the manufacturer stating his blender’s model number was on the recall list. Purchasers of the blender were told to bring them back to the store where they would be exchanged for a newer model. The recall was due to a wiring problem which may cause electrical shocks to the user.
Bob disregarded the recall notice and continued to use his blender. Several weeks later, while turning on his blender Bob received an electrical shock. It caused a serious burn to his hand.
Bob wanted to sue the manufacturer. Unfortunately, attorney after attorney told him that because he ignored the recall notice, he had no basis to file a product liability suit.
Example: Manufacturer liability
Amy purchased a toaster oven from a local retail store. She used it without incident for several months. After re-heating some left over pizza one evening, Amy reached for the toaster oven door. It fell from its hinges onto her hand, causing 2nd degree burns.
The manufacturer had previously received complaints about the defective oven door from several hundred customers. But because the number of reported incidents was small, the manufacturer decided not to issue a recall.
In this case, the manufacturer and retailer would be liable for Amy’s damages. They knew about the hazard, but chose to do nothing about it.
Hiring an Attorney
If you’ve been injured in an appliance accident and your injuries are relatively minor, you can probably handle your own injury claim. In any injury scenario, it’s important to collect all the evidence you can about the appliance, its defect, and the injuries it caused.
Notify the manufacturer by sending a certified letter to its corporate office. Enclose photographs of the appliance and your injuries, copies of your medical bills, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses (ex. medications, bandages, etc.), and a letter from your employer verifying any wages lost while getting your injuries treated.
If you don’t receive a satisfactory response from the manufacturer, you can file a claim in your local small claims court.
If your appliance accident resulted in more serious injuries, such as 3rd degree burns, deep cuts or gashes, or broken bones, contact a personal injury attorney immediately. Without a competent lawyer, the manufacturer may try to take advantage of you, offering much less than your injuries are worth.
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