Allstate Insurance Co. has filed a product liability suit against Electrolux Home Products Inc. in an Illinois federal court seeking to recover $3.6 million in damages. The insurer said it paid policyholder claims in connection with fire-causing dryers that Electrolux knew were defective. This is the latest in more than a half-dozen such suits. Allstate said it paid 46 policyholders more than $3.6 million for damages related to fires caused by gas or electric clothes dryers manufactured and sold by Electrolux.
The insurer also demands that Electrolux cover its costs and pay punitive damages for the fires in part because the fires were foreseeable. Allstate says Electrolux had started testing a new dryer system with a part made from a combustible material in the mid-1990s, and the test results showed that dryer lint could get into the back, ignite and cause the combustible material to burn. But the insurer says Electrolux sold the dryers anyway, leading to fires in the homes of the Allstate customers. It’s alleged by Allstate:
Electrolux designed, tested, inspected, manufactured, sold and/or distributed into the stream of commerce the subject dryers, including their component parts, in a dangerous defective condition, which catastrophically failed due to a defect.
Allstate has filed more than six similar product liability suits against Electrolux in various federal districts asserting essentially the same claims but for different damages amounts. The machines at issue in the instant suit are so-called ball-hitch dryers that include a dryer drum that rotates around a fixed rear access, with an empty space just behind the drum called a heater pan, according to the suit. The following are allegations by Allstate:
There’s also a blower motor encased in a housing and a trap duct on the front of the dryer cabinet with a mesh lint trap to pick up loose clothing lint while the dryer turns. The blower housing and trap duct used to be made of steel, but in 1995 and 1996, Electrolux redesigned those parts to be made with combustible plastics. During the redesign process, Electrolux ran tests on its new plastic parts, and a ball-hitch dryer had a fire ignited in its internal cabinet that spread to the combustible plastic trap duct.
During another test in 1998, Electrolux found that a fire could spread to the blower housing and trap duct, both of which were made with combustible materials. Once ignited, the plastics in the blower housing and trap duct could melt and spread outside the dryer cabinet. Before it even started making the dryers with plastic parts, Electrolux had received consumer complaints and warranty claims for fires with the ball-hitch models, and in 2005, the Japanese government forced a recall. But the company didn’t recall the dryers in the U.S., and it didn’t warn customers of the fire hazard.
Allstate’s suit includes claims for strict liability and negligence. It’s most interesting that this insurance company doesn’t mind using the court system when it is the victim. The case is Allstate Insurance Co. et al. v. Electrolux Home Products Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
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