Recent Notable Recalls

By now most subrogation professionals understand the importance of keeping current with the frequent Consumer Product Safety Commission recall notices.  For this blog post we note the following recent notable recalls for the subrogation professional: 

Bosch Security Systems Recalls Fire Control Panels Due to Fire Alarm Failure
A recall was issued by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission for the Bosch GV4 Fire Alarm Control Panel. The recall relates to the hazard of the notification appliance circuit module which can cause the panels to fail to activate an audible or visual alarm in the event of a fire. More specifically, the recall involves the G-series Fire Alarm Control Panels that are professionally installed and have model numbers that end in GV4 and use D192G Notification Appliance Circuit (NAC) modules. The NAC module monitors the circuit connections and signals when alarms are not operational. The Bosch name, logo and model number D9412GV4, D7412GV4 or D7212GV4 are on the board of recalled GV4 fire alarm control panels. The control panels and modules are used in residences and commercial facilities and can be mounted inside a variety of enclosures with a minimum size of 16 inches x 16 inches x 3.5 inches, which may or may not be labeled with the Bosch name or logo.


Most of the subject models were sold nationwide from January 2012 to December 2012. Consumers who have a recalled GV4 control panel with a D192G NAC module should contact Bosch or their certified professional installer for a free repair. Bosch Security Systems Inc. may be contacted at (800) 289-0096, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or online at www.boschsecurity.us and click on Customer Care for more information. To date, there have been no reports of any injuries. Bosch has contacted their distributors and installers and sent installers a service bulletin telling them how to correct the problem.


GE Brand Dehumidifiers are Recalled Due to Serious Fire and Burn Hazards

This recall involves 30, 40, 50, 65-pint dehumidifiers with the GE brand name. The brand name, model number, pint capacity and manufacture date are printed on the nameplate sticker on the back of the dehumidifier. The chart below indicates those that are recalled. The dehumidifiers are light gray plastic and measure between 19 and 23 inches tall, 13 and 15 inches wide, and 9 and 11 inches deep.


There have been 16 reports of incidents with the recalled GE-brand dehumidifiers, including 11 reports of overheating with no property damage beyond the units, and 5 reports of fires beyond the units which were associated with about $430,000 reported in property damage. No injuries have been reported. These items were sold at Sam’s Club, Walmart and other stores nationwide and in Canada, and online at Amazon.com and Ebay.com, from April 2008 through December 2011 for between $180 and $270. The manufacturer is Gree Electric Appliances, of China and may be contacted at Gree toll-free at (866) 853-2802 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET, or online at www.greeusa.com and click on Recall for more information.


System Sensor Recalls Reflected Beam Smoke Detectors Due To Failure to Alert Consumers in a Fire
Sensor reflected beam smoke detectors were recalled due to hazard when used with certain power supplies. Apparently, when used in this manner, the reflected beam smoke detectors can fail to send a signal to the fire alarm control panel that sounds the alarm and fail to alert occupants of a fire. The recall involves about 610 units with model number BEAM1224S and date codes 2111 through 3053. The YMMW format date codes stand for (2111) 2012-November-1st week of Nov. through (3053) 2013-May-3rd week of May. The detectors are ivory and black and measure 10 inches high by 7½ inches wide. The model number and date code are printed on a label on the back of the detector’s cover and on the product’s packaging. The reflected beam smoke detectors were used primarily in commercial buildings as part of the fire alarm system. Detectors used with acceptable power supplies, as listed on the company website, do not need to be replaced.
If you own such item you may report it to System Sensor at (800) 736-7672 from 7:30 a.m. through 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, or online at www.systemsensor.com and click on Resources, then Product Info Library/Technical Field Bulletins, then Safety Bulletins for more information and a list of acceptable power supplies. No Incidents/Injuries have been reported. Owners with the affected smoke detectors powered by a power supply that is not on the company’s acceptable list available online, should contact System Sensor to receive free replacement smoke detectors.
It is important to note these recalls especially when handling product defect matters. In those types of matters, it is beneficial to search the products company website, as well as, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission website to see if your product is the subject of a recall.

 

 

 

 

 

VIKING RECALL FOR BUILT-IN SIDE-BY-SIDE REFRIGERATOR FREEZERS

Last month, Viking Range, LLC recalled approximately 750 42-inch and 48-inch built-in side-by-side refrigerator freezers with in-door water and ice dispensers that were manufactured between October 2012 and May 2013. Electrical connectors in the refrigerator freezer wiring harness can overheat which poses a fire hazard. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission recall, Viking has received 27 reports of electrical shorts and 4 reports of fires.


The recall advises owners to immediately turn off and unplug the recalled refrigerator freezers and contact Viking to schedule a free, in-home repair. Click here for a list of all model numbers included in the recall. The model number can be found on the ceiling of the interior of the refrigerator.
 

15 Million Schneider Electric Surge Protectors Recalled

Last week Schneider Electric recalled over 15 million surge protectors that pose a fire hazard to consumers and their property. Schneider issued a recall on select model American Power Conversion (APC) series 7 and 8 surge protectors that it manufactured between 1993 and 2002. The products were sold nationwide at retailers like Best Buy, Circuit City, and COMP USA. Click here for a list of all model numbers. The Schneider surge protectors can be identified by the words “Personal,” “Professional,” “Performance,” or “Network” printed on the product.
 

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission recall, Schneider has received 700 reports of the surge protectors overheating, including 55 claims of property damage from fire and smoke. This includes one instance of $916,000 in damage to a home and another instance of $750,000 in fire damage to a medical facility. In addition, there are 13 reports of personal injuries, including smoke inhalation and contact burns from touching the overheated surge protectors. Schneider Electric is a global manufacturer of numerous electronic products ranging from weather observation hardware and solar equipment to circuit breakers. Schneider has set up a recall website for consumers to obtain a free replacement surge protector.
 

Dehumidifiers Recalled for Fire and Burn Hazard

On September 12, 2013, Gree Electric Appliances, Inc. of Zhuhai, China announced the recall of 2.2 million dehumidifiers sold in the United States under ten different brand names. The recall was instituted after the manufacturer received notice of 165 incidents involving their products, including 46 fires, and causing more than $2,000,000 in property damage. The units can overheat, smoke and catch fire, posing fire and burn hazards to owners. The manufacturer has reportedly launched investigations into each of the fires. Gree Electric Appliances reported to BusinessWire.com that their internal investigation indicates that the dehumidifiers overheat as a result of low levels of refrigerant. In some instances, Gree suspects that a compressor overload protector emits sparks inside its plastic cover, potentially causing a fire inside the unit.

Gree manufactured the dehumidifiers under brand names, Danby, De’Longhi, Fedders, Fellini, Fridgerdaire, Gree, Kenmore, Norpole, Premier, SeaBreeze, Soleus Air, and SuperClima. The units were sold at appliance and major retailers throughout the United States and online at Amazon and E-Bay, between January, 2005 and August, 2013. The units are white, beige, gray or black plastic and measure between 19 and 24 inches tall, 13 and 15 inches wide, and 9 and 11 inches deep.

Consumers typically use dehumidifiers in their basements and additional inquiry should be made in basement fire claims about your insured’s use of a dehumidifier. If you have a fire loss involving a dehumidifier, you should consult the CPSC Recall Notice for a complete list of make and model numbers to determine if your model is listed on the recall.

 

Long, Hot Summer: Two Auto Manufacturers Announce Major Recalls to Address Fire Risk

It has been a long, hot summer for Honda and General Motors. In June, Honda recalled roughly 686,000 vehicles sold worldwide. Of the 686,000 vehicles recalled, 143,000 were sold in the United States under the Fit name. The problem with the vehicles, from the 2007-08 model years, involves the master power window switch on the driver’s door. According to Honda, “exposure to water and other fluids can cause electrical resistance in the switch, which ultimately can cause the switch to overheat and melt,” resulting in a fire. Honda has advised all Fit owners to park their vehicles outside until the window switch can be inspected.  Click here for a link to the Honda recall website. 


General Motors, which owns a controlling stake in Honda, expanded an existing recall this summer as well. Last August, GM recalled 249,000 various model sport utility vehicles to address a problem with a circuit board in the driver’s side door. This summer, GM added 231,000 more SUVs to the recall. Of the 480,000 vehicles recalled, approximately 443,000 were sold in the United States. The recall indicates “road salt, rain water, and other liquids can get inside the driver’s door module,” potentially causing a short circuit in a circuit board in the door. The short circuit “may cause overheating,” which can melt parts of the door and ignite a fire. The recall applies to the Chevrolet Trailblazer EXT and GMC Envoy XL from the 2006 model year, as well as the Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Buick Rainier, Saab 9-7X and Isuzu Ascender from the 2006-07 model years. To date, GM has received reports of eleven fires related to the problem with the circuit board.
 

While summer is coming to a close, subrogation professionals should keep these substantial recalls in mind as they investigate vehicle fires in the coming months.
 

LG Dehumidifiers Recalled after Reports of Thirteen Fires

Thirteen fires and more than one million dollars in property damage have been caused by LG Dehumidifiers, prompting a recall. The Goldstar GHD30Y7, Goldstar DH305Y7 and Comfort-Aire BHD-301-C dehumidifiers are all included in the recall. The recalled units are distributed through The Home Depot, Walmart, Ace Hardware, Do It Best, Orgill and other nationwide retailers from January 2007 through June 2008.

The failure mode is identified by the CPSC as a short in the power connector for the dehumidifier's compressor. Consumers are warned to immediately stop using the dehumidifiers and unplug them. Goldstar and Comfort-Aire deny any responsibility.

If you learn of dehumidifiers in the area of origin, it's recommended to hire an electrical engineer to perform a site inspection so as to rule the unit in or out, along with any other electrical sources, including the structural electrical system. The dehumidifier should be preserved if there is any possibility it may have been involved in the fire, along with the receptacle to which it is connected, and any associated cords, including extension cords.
 

Pourable Gel Fuel Recalled

On September 1, 2011 the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a voluntary recall of all pourable gel fuels made by nine separate companies. The recall covers an estimated two million units of this fuel, which has been sold since 2008. Customers are being asked to contact the individual companies to obtain a refund for return of the product.

The recall is reportedly based on 65 reported incidents of flash fires. The fuel is designed to be used in outdoor fireplaces or firepits.  Specifically, the pourable gel fuel can ignite unexpectedly and splatter onto people and objects when it is poured into a firepot that is still burning.

If you have a claim involving a flash fire occurring when an individual was using pourable gel fuel, your first instinct may be to chalk it up to user error. However, based on this recall, thought should be given to pursuing a products liability theory.
 

Recall Notices and Your Subrogation Case

Property insurers are all too familiar with losses caused by defective products. Some product defects are isolated instances, affecting only one unit, but in today’s era of mass production and of use of component parts supplied by third-party vendors, defects that affect every unit of a particular product are commonplace.

When a systemic defect is discovered, such as the defect affecting Ford cruise control systems or Norcold RV refrigerators, a prudent manufacturer will proactively issue a notice of product recall to consumers. Some such notices are published through the manufacturer’s website or through government channels, and are not directly sent to consumers. Others, such as the recalls issued by Ford and Norcold, are sent by mail directly to affected consumers. In many cases, the consumer ignores the recall notice, which can present problems for a subrogated property carrier attempting to recover against the manufacturer of the defective product.

In litigation, the problem arises when the product manufacturer can prove that it sent one or more recall notices to the insured. Manufacturers rely on the notices as evidence of the insured’s contributory negligence. However, the confirmed receipt of a recall notice by the insured does not automatically devalue your subrogation case. Further analysis should be done as there are several factors which can work in favor of a subrogated insurer. First, the insured may deny receiving the recall notice. Recall notices are almost always sent by standard US Mail, with no means of confirming the consumer’s receipt of the notice. In those instances, the assertion by the insured that he or she never received any notice of recall is often sufficient to drive up the value of the case. Because many recall documents are sent in plain envelopes which give no clue that they contain vital safety information, it is reasonable to assume it could be discarded as “junk mail”.

Even if there is no real dispute that a recall notice was received, the manufacturer must show that the recall was effective in curing the defect which it seeks to address. For example, some Ford owners have suffered fire losses relating to the cruise control systems of their vehicles after they had the recall work performed. Likewise, Norcold has issued repeated recalls of some of its RV refrigerators, and maintains a website advising certain consumers that “[e]ven if your refrigerator was repaired as part of a previous recall, it is necessary to have it repaired again to minimize the risk of injury or death due to fire.” If the recall work is not actually effective in correcting the product defect, it is arguable that the recall notices have no real effect. That is, if the product defect still exists after the recall work is performed, a consumer who ignores the notice has not failed to decrease his or her risk of a loss.
 

Recall notices can also be used as an offensive tool in subrogation actions. Many courts have admitted recall notices into evidence to show that a particular defect existed at the time the product left the manufacturer’s control. The plaintiff must show substantial, independent evidence of the defect’s occurrence in the actual product involved in their case. Further, if the recall issued prior to the date of the loss, the product manufacturer will be hard pressed to keep it out of evidence as a subsequent remedial measure. A recall notice coming into evidence is obviously devastating for the product manufacturer.

In short, subrogated insurers should not despair when they learn that their insured received one or many recall notices relating to a product which caused a loss, as significant value may still be recovered.
 

Not Quite a Recall--Lennox Issues a "Product Hold" Due to Fire Hazard

On September 17, 2010 Lennox International, Inc. sent a letter to all of its constituent regional organizations as well as its licensed dealers, installers and repair technicians placing a “Product Hold” on a series of residential air conditioning units. According to the letter, Lennox air conditioning units manufactured between July 1, 2010 and September 16, 2010 starting with serial numbers 1910G, 1910J, 5810G, and 5810J represent a serious fire hazard during installation. As part of the standard installation, the suction lines on the units must be brazed. Due to the configuration of the suction lines, one of the refrigerant valves can overheat and crack from the heat generated by the brazing. As a result, refrigerant escapes and the oil in the refrigerant can ignite. There are several reported cases of the fire spreading to the home causing significant property damage. It is believed that Lennox has not issued a full recall of these units because it is trying to develop a fix for the problem so that units that have been released into the supply chain can still be utilized at a later date. 

Clearly any fire involving an HVAC unit reported between July 1 and September 16 should be scrutinized to determine if a Lennox unit was involved and, if so, whether a “held” unit was the culprit. If it is determined that a “held” unit was the culprit, Lennox should be considered as a potential defendant. Second, there is at least one known case of this type of fire occurring after the “hold” was issued. Any installer that fails to heed Lennox’s warning not to install the product could open itself to liability, depending on the laws of the state where the fire occurs.

Car Fire Cases: Recalling the Recall

Defective car cases can be challenging to pursue.   When the car is subject to a recall, recovery potential usually improves.  If the vehicle’s owner knew about the recall and had the repairs done, do not despair—many times those repairs are inadequate.

One example is the defective Ford speed control deactivation switches.   The switches have been the subject of recalls since 1999 and continuing through to 2009.   However, on February 2, 2008, Ford issued a "recall of the recall" as to 225,000 of its previously recalled cars that had supposedly been "fixed."   The problem, as portrayed by Ford, was that a certain batch of fused wiring jumper harnesses installed in vehicles had "defective fusing."   Sources would later say that the problem was also an ambiguity in the service instructions, causing technicians to make mistakes in executing the fix.

Another example is the recall campaign for the 2001-2004 Mazda Tributes, which described the problem with the ABS modules as follows:

What is the problem?
…. [T]he Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) Module connector may have missing or dislodged wire seals.  This condition could allow contamination to enter the module connector creating a potential for an electrical short.  …. This condition could occur either when the vehicle ignition switch is in the off position or while the vehicle is being operated.

This recall fails to explain the root cause of the defect and how that problem is addressed by the “fix”.  Rather, significant discretion is given to the service technician to decide whether to repair or replace the harness connector (“as appropriate”) and the connector to the ABS module, which gives much opportunity for human error.

In sum, the fact that recall work was done does not necessarily destroy your subrogation case.  In fact, it may open up more questions about the effectiveness of the recall and provide an additional theory of liability in certain circumstances.

PTAC Fires Becoming Subrogation Opportunities

PTAC fires are causing a recent stir in apartment complexes and hotels. What is a PTAC, you ask? PTAC's are Packaged Terminal Air Conditioners/Heat Pumps. They are self contained machines installed through the wall with a sub unit for each room, which can be controlled independently. The units normally have the ability to heat as well as cool.

In December 2009, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled about 30,000 Amana-brand, Comfort-Aire, and Century-brand PTAC units manufactured by Goodman Manufacturing. The recall covers units manufactured from February 2007 to April 2008.

According to the recall, the problem with the units appears to be overheating where the power cord connects to the power supply, causing a burn or fire hazard.  However, due to the relative newness of these fires, the specific problem is still unclear and a case-by-case evaluation should be employed. The power cords are manufactured by Tower Manufacturing, a U.S. Corporation. The circuit boards are manufactured by Everex Communications, also U.S. based. 

Goodman has also implemented a voluntary corrective action program (“CAP”) in which they provide new replacement power cords for the recalled units. However, it has been reported that these replacement cords have also been subject to failures/fires. With 30,000 units subject to the recall, and the potential of the corrective action program being unsuccessful, there will likely be more subrogation opportunities with fires involving PTACs.  

Product Recalls: Bolstering Your Subrogation Case

Junk appliancesOne of the first things to do upon receipt of a new subrogation loss involving a product is to check to see if there are any recalls of that product.  Ultimately, if your cause and origin investigator determines the product is the cause of the loss, the recall can greatly strengthen your subrogation case.  It provides effective cross-examination of the manufacturer’s employees and experts, as well as substantial leverage in settlement discussions. 

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) regularly advises the public of product recalls and is an excellent resource.  Recently, the CPSC issued the following product recalls which may be relevant to future subrogation claims:

On July 30, 2008, Frigidaire announced a voluntary recall of clothes washers due to a fire hazard.  An internal defect in the washers’ drain pump case overheats and presents a fire hazard.  This recall involves several models within the six brands manufactured by Frigidaire which were sold nationwide between February 2009 and May 2009.  The Frigidaire brands subject to this recall include Crosley, Frigidaire, Kelvinator, Kenmore, Wascomat and White-Westinghouse

On July 21, 2009, Fiesta Gas Grills announced a voluntary recall of its Blue Ember grills, which are fueled by propane.  These gas grills are manufactured by Unisplendor Corporation and Keesung Corporation, both in China. Fiesta is the national importer.  The hose of the gas tank can get too close to the firebox, exposing it to heat and creating a fire hazard. The grills were sold nationwide between November 2006 and June 2007 and in Canada between November 2006 and May 2009. 

On August 11, 2009, Griffin International issued a voluntary recall on Wii battery recharge stations.  Psyclone Essentials and React Wii 4-dock battery recharge stations are recalled due to a fire hazard. The battery pack can overheat, creating a fire hazard. The battery packs subject to this recall were sold at Target, Toys R Us and on amazon.com from January 2008 to July 2009.