An Arkansas woman whose husband died of smoke inhalation and burns in a camper fire resulting from a refrigerator defect settled her lawsuit against Norcold Refrigerators and a camper dealership for $7 million last week.
The fire’s cause was due to cracked tubing in the camper’s Norcold refrigerator, which resulted in the leaking of flammable hydrogen. Norcold apparently knew of the potential fire hazard as early as 1999 and notified federal officials that it would recall over 40,000 refrigerators. Much like the “FDA approved the drug” defense I have been blogging about in recent months, Norcold contended that it followed federal regulations in conducting the recall.
But the Plaintiff did not receive a recall notice until 6 years after Norcold knew of the defect. Norcold could have found the owners of all the campers by checking their Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN), but it did not do that until late 2004, too late to get notice out to the Plaintiff. In a tragic irony, the Plaintiff received the recall notice seven months after the accident.
The problem here is that refrigerators’ cooling units can just heat up to where the steel tubing is almost 1000 degrees. You don’t need an engineering degree to know that’s hot. As a result, it can ignite flammable gases and cause a fire, which is probably exactly what happened in this case.
Plaintiff’s attorney, in this case, deserves a lot of praise. This is the only lawsuit ever filed against this company for this product, although you can be virtually certain it has killed many others (and there are still 12,000 of these refrigerators that have not yet been recalled). Many of the best product liability and medical malpractice cases our lawyers have had were accident cases like this, the cases that other lawyers rejected because they really did not want to turn over a lot of stones to figure out what really happened. But it is the turning of these stones that brings about not only justice for the individual Plaintiff, but it further provides the checks and balances that are required to make sure that companies keep their products safe. You can bet next time Norcold has a problem with one of its products that creates a public safety risk, they will respond with a lot more haste and diligence than they did in this case.
A class-action lawsuit was filed against Norcold, alleging it knew of fire with these refrigerators and did nothing but keep on selling them. When Norcold finally came up with a plan to fix it, many of their refrigerators broke before catching fire. A better outcome, sure, but little consolation to the owner of the product.
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