Product Defect Allegedly Causes Explosion in Refrigerator

    Product Liability Expert WitnessThis case takes place in Kentucky and involves an injury to a middle-aged man who was hit by the door of his refrigerator after it exploded due to an alleged defect in its design. The plaintiff had recently purchased a new home refrigerator and placed it in his basement. Approximately one week after his purchase, the refrigerator exploded without warning. When the blast occurred, the plaintiff was sitting on the couch in his basement enjoying a football game. The force of the explosion blew the front door from its hinges, propelling it at the plaintiff, and it struck him squarely in the chest and head. Subsequently, he suffered a shattered shoulder, broken clavicle, four cracked ribs and a concussion from the force of the door striking him. A number of expert witnesses specialize in consumer product safety and explosives were sought to opine on this case.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • 1. How could this happen and how are fridges designed to prevent this?

    Expert Witness Response E-006707

    Like many home appliances, a refrigerator can be a dangerous machine if not built properly. Within the past 15 years, refrigerator manufacturers have been switching to “environmentally-friendly” coolants. This switch to “Greenfreeze” technology, as it is called, is made up of isobutene and propane hydrocarbon gases. Both of these gases are highly flammable This technology replaces CFCs and HFCs, which were discontinued after it was determined they were harmful to the ozone layer and contributed significantly to global warming. The refrigerators are designed with safety features to make sure these flammable gasses inside the pipework do not leak into the fridge. However, if there is a defect in this design, a forceful blast can result if the gases are ignited by a spark when the thermostat switches off. These types of problems typically occur when the door has remained shut for an extended period of time, which allows the gases to build up inside of the refrigerator. In this case, it appears that these gases likely contributed to the explosion, but further analysis on the fridge should be done to give a definitive answer. Also, the refrigerator should be designed to prevent any sparks from causing the built-up gases to light. An analysis of the original design, including the distribution system for the isobutene and propane hydrocarbon gases, and their use in the refrigerator, along with an examination of the remaining parts of the refrigerator (to test for compliance), is critical. I have over thirty-five years experience as design engineer, with extensive knowledge in refrigerator manufacturing.

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