Pressure cookers, whether they be traditional versions or the new the digital versions like Instant Pot, are very popular with chefs and home cooks alike. But do they pose a safety risk that outweighs the time savings?
What makes a pressure cooker dangerous?
Pressure cookers have been a popular medium for food preparation around the world for hundreds of years. Their popularity is mostly due to their ability to cook food in a fraction of the time it takes to prepare the same meal in an oven or on a stovetop.
The way pressure cookers work is by trapping steam within a pot using a tightly sealed lid. A release valve maintains the appropriate level of pressure within the pot and lets out just enough steam to keep the process safe.
With no way to escape from the top of the pot, the remaining steam redirects itself back to the food, heating it at a fast rate and high temperature. The convenience, however, is not without risks.
The main problem in most pressure cooker accidents is the lid opening too soon or unintentionally. This is the cause of the vast majority of injuries related to pressure cookers. The lid generally has a mechanism that is supposed to make it impossible to open while the contents inside the cooker are still at a high pressure and dangerous temperature.
When this mechanism fails and the lid is thrust open, the contents of the cooker can erupt like a volcano. Liquids within a pressure cooker can reach as high as 250 degrees Fahrenheit, 38 degrees hotter than the boiling point of water. This can cause severe, debilitating burns.
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Pressure Cooker Lawsuits
Modern improvements to this age-old device were meant to make pressure cooking safer and easier. Upgrades include stainless steel and digital screens. Stainless steel pressure cookers are not only sleek and attractive. The material is resistant to corrosion, making it less likely to overheat than older aluminum models. Digital screens and other visual indicators tell users when it is safe to open the pressure cooker, removing the guesswork for the user.
Irrespective of these advancements, manufacturing defects have left unsuspecting users with painful, serious injuries. Defects that allow crockpots to be opened prematurely have caused the overheated contents to explode from the device. For example, more than one user of the Crock-Pot Express Pressure Cooker reported severe burns despite closely following instructions in the product’s manual. A lawsuit against the company Sunbeam claims the consumers were injured because of a faulty gasket in some incidences and defective pressure release valve in others.
Reported defects have not been tied to only one manufacturer. A California-based husband and wife sued both the makers of their pressure cooker and the department store where they purchased it. Despite reportedly using the machine’s timing mechanism and locking the lid, the wife claimed excessive steam was released just before the pot exploded, leaving her scalded.
A Florida woman suffered second-degree burns on her chest, arms, and hands after the locking mechanism on her Tristar Power Pressure Cooker XL pressure cooker failed her, leaving her permanently scarred. Several victims before her had already taken legal action against Tristar.
A nine year old girl from Colorado sustained third-degree burns after soup spewed from her family’s pressure cooker all over her, including her face. Burns covered 16% of the child’s body. Her family filed a lawsuit against Instant Pot following this incident.
The Risks of Defective or Unsafe Parts in Consumer Appliances
The use of defective or unsafe parts is not unique to pressure cookers. Many common household items have been linked to injuries. Some of these products are electric ceiling fans, refrigerators, space heaters, food processors, stoves, ovens, and toasters. Similarly, there have been, and continue to be, problems with defective batteries in items like cellphones and scooters.
Virtually any home appliance can cause injuries due to design flaws, manufacturing errors, use of substandard materials, and/or incorrect instructions in the owner’s manual.
Hunter fans recalled their Contempo models 59174 and 59176 due to the fact that they received 40 complaints from across the United States and Canada. The problem was in the incorrect installation instructions of the light fixture. Luckily, no one was hurt.
Amazon recalled their AmazonBasics ceramic space heater when they received 30 complaints of overheating, burning, or sparking. In two instances, they caused minor damage to the electrical outlet.
Conair Corporation recalled Cuisinart machines’ riveted blades. Some users had reported that the riveted blade could crack over time, causing portions of the blade to detach. A lawsuit claimed that Conair promoted the Cuisinart machines as functional despite evidence to the contrary. It also claimed that Conair violated express and implied warranties.The corporation denied liability and the case was settled.
Manufacturer responsibility to consumer
It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that products are free of defects and design flaws and contain proper instructions for safe use.
By law, manufacturers are required to make sure their products meet minimum safety standards. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has authorized a variety of regulations for both children’s consumer products and products for the general population.
Since millions of products are developed and distributed annually, an occasional defect or mistake will happen. When manufacturers are notified of an error in these cases, they are required to take corrective actions.
Reporting hazardous and non-compliant products to the CPSC is in your best interest as a consumer. This allows the CPSC to create a database of such complaints and take adequate measures with the manufacturer.
[Click here to view the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Recall List.]
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Who is liable for a defective product that causes injury?
A consumer who is injured because of a defective product design, defects caused during transportation, or a missing risk warning may be able to seek compensation from several parties. Anyone in the distribution chain may be held responsible for a defective product. This includes manufacturers of a product, wholesalers and distributors, as well as retailers that users directly purchase these products from.
Retailers must take adequate measures to make sure that the products they sell conform to regulatory laws and are safe. If they do not, a retailer of a product can also be held liable in a product liability case even though they had no responsibility for the design or manufacture of the product.
Even if a consumer purchased or used a pre-owned appliance, members of the distribution chain may still be liable. Consumers can also sue if they are injured after following a product manual that contains misprinted, incorrect, or inadequate instructions.
A company is required to report a defect to the Consumer Safety Protection Commission within 24 hours of obtaining knowledge about it. Failure to do so can result in massive fines and injury lawsuits.
Once a recall is issued, the manufacturer must send a notice to all distributors, retailers, and all known customers who purchased the product. A manufacturer that doesn’t send a notice opens itself up to additional liabilities. However, sending this notice doesn’t necessarily protect the manufacturer against liability lawsuits.
Distributors and retailers that are aware of a recall but continue to provide a product anyway are knowingly putting consumers at risk. If you personally continue to use a product after being notified of a problem with your appliance, then you are assuming the risk while using the product.
Victims of faulty pressure cookers can seek compensation from at-fault parties not only for medical bills and lost wages, but also for the permanently scarring and disfigurement that come with serious burns.
Were you injured by a defective product?
If you or a loved one was injured due to an exploding pressure cooker or any other defective product, contact the experienced defective product attorneys at Viles & Beckman. We will be happy to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation where we can go over the facts of your case and discuss your rights and options. You can contact us here.