Millions of dishwashers could pose fire hazard, lawsuit claims

One of the most common dishwashers in Canadian kitchens is dangerously defective according to allegations contained in a class action lawsuit filed by an Edmonton lawyer.

Claimants want recall and damages for some Whirlpool, Kenmore and KitchenAid models

Christine Fitzsimons returned to her kitchen to see smoke pouring from her Kenmore Elite dishwasher in January. (CBC)

One of the most common dishwashers in Canadian kitchens is dangerously defective according to allegations contained in a class action lawsuit filed by an Edmonton lawyer.

Since the lawsuit was filed in September more than two dozen people have come forward to report their dishwashers caught fire, according to lawyer Rick Mallett of Edmonton-based James H. Brown and Associates.

A dishwasher control panel shows signs of scorching. (CBC)

“It’s a real concern because almost everyone has a dishwasher,” Mallett said. “And we’re hearing stories about flames that come shooting out of the front of the dishwasher where all the controls are.”

The suit covers fires in the electronic control boards made by Whirlpool Corporation, and installed in millions of dishwashers in North America, sold under brand names that include Whirlpool, Kenmore and KitchenAid.

Christine Fitzsimons of Red Deer said her Kenmore Elite dishwasher caught fire in January.

She said she was running a load and was in another part of the house getting ready for company to arrive when she smelled smoke.

“It was like the worst electrical smell I’ve ever smelled,” Fitzsimons said.

'Smoke was filling the room'

She and her husband came into the kitchen and saw white smoke pouring from the dishwasher.

“We ran to the dishwasher and opened it up and it was just full of smoke and the smoke was filling the room.”

They turned off the dishwasher and aired out the house.

But later that night her husband closed the dishwasher’s door and the smoke started pouring out again.

“At that point the power was on in the dishwasher and he ran downstairs … to turn the breaker off for it to stop,” she said.

Fitzsimons said she often used the dishwasher’s delay cycle to run a load at the end of the day and worries what would have happened had she not detected the smell so quickly.

“I hate to think if we’d used it that night and gone to bed, what would have happened.”

Natalie Bickert, of Kelowna, B.C., is the lead plaintiff in the class-action suit.

Bickert believes she’s lucky to be alive after her dishwasher caught fire last December.

Owner suffered smoke and CO inhalation

She suffered smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation and was rushed to hospital.

Bickert said the dishwasher should have been recalled.

“I had no idea that my dishwasher was a fire hazard,” she said in a written statement.

“The company should recall or repair the dishwasher, and they should warn consumers.”

Fitzsimons’s Kenmore dishwasher was manufactured by Whirlpool Corporation.

She went online her and found her machine’s model number was one digit different from a model already recalled by Whirlpool because of concerns of fire.

Fitzsimons contacted Sears, where she had  purchased the dishwasher.

Sears said her dishwasher wasn’t part of the recall because her machine had a stainless steel tub and the 2005 recall only covered machines with plastic tubs.

In fact, the recall was for problems with overheating motors, not control panels.

Another recall, for about 1.7 million Maytag dishwashers, was issued by Whirlpool in 2010 after 12 reports of fires because of failed heating elements.  Maytag is also owned by Whirlpool.

Whirlpool has not issued a recall on its electronic control boards, which it has used since 1989, and said it stands by their safety.

“No serious injury has been caused by a Whirlpool control board. Electronic control boards in any electronic product will heat up during normal operation ,” said spokeswoman Kristine Vernier in an emailed statement. "In extremely rare situations they can overheat."

Vernier says Whirlpool is monitoring the safety of its products and working with government safety agencies in Canada and the U.S.

“We’ve sold more than 24 million of those dishwashers,” she wrote, adding they were built so overheating would be contained within the unit itself.

The statement goes on to say the "claims in the proposed class-action lawsuit are without merit."

Lawsuit questions Whirlpool’s assurances

“We certainly take issue with that,” Mallett said.

“(Natalie Bickert) had a fire that wasn’t contained; the safety features didn’t work; and she ended up …with smoke inhalation and significant smoke damage to her home.”

Mallett said the goals of the lawsuit are to get compensation for people whose dishwashers were destroyed and who suffered health problems or damage to their homes, and to force Whirlpool to issue a recall.

A separate class-action lawsuit was filed against Whirlpool in the U.S. on behalf of 18 people whose dishwashers allegedly caught fire.

The suit alleges the dishwasher control boards have a known design flaw and that Whirlpool and Sears have been aware of problems with the control panels for at least four years.

The claims in both lawsuits have not been proven.

Fitzsimons hasn’t yet joined the Canadian class-action suit, but hopes it will prompt Whirlpool to recognize there’s a problem.

“I don’t think anyone’s lost their life yet,” she said. “But I wonder what it’s going to take for them to actually do something.”


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