Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.

Whirlpool faces suit over fatal refrigerator fire

Major appliances reportedly are the culprits behind some 150,000 house fires annually, hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage as well as thousands of injuries and some fatalities as well. Most people don't think of refrigerators when they picture an appliance catching fire. However, Whirlpool is facing a lawsuit from the widow of a man who reportedly was burned to death by his refrigerator. The fire that allegedly emanated from the appliance also destroyed a significant portion of the family's house, according to the suit.

This sounds like a bizarre occurrence, but according to the suit, the refrigerator's icemaker had a short in its heating element that caused the refrigerator to heat to over 1,000 degrees. According to the suit, in January of 2012, the man saw smoke coming out of the refrigerator. It was so bad that it caused the smoke alarm to go off. The man reportedly opened the freezer door to find the problem, and "the rush of oxygen generated a fireball" that severely burned the man over his face and body. He was taken to the hospital, where he succumbed to injuries to his body as well as his lungs. The official reason for his death was listed as "acute thermal injury."

The man's wife says that the refrigerator, which they had purchased ten years prior to the fire, had undergone warranty repairs. She is asking for punitive as well as compensatory damages from Whirlpool. The suit accuses the company of "negligence, failure to warn, breach of warranty and negligent repair."

It was not reported what kind of defense the Michigan-based appliance maker will mount for this business litigation. Obviously, this was a tragic situation, and the company and its legal team will need to address it with compassion. However, they will also want to minimize the financial damage to the company, as well as to its reputation. It was not reported that this was anything but an isolated incident. When such tragedies occur, it is essential for a company to show that it is taking the matter seriously and doing everything in its power to protect its customers from harm.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Burned to Death by a Refrigerator" Iulia Filip, Jan. 08, 2014

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