Stove-Tipping Raises Concerns

Edmund Mierzwinski of U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, along with Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, left, and Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America, call on stovemakers and retailers to prevent tipping.
Edmund Mierzwinski of U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, along with Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, left, and Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America, call on stovemakers and retailers to prevent tipping. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Annys Shin and Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 6, 2007

Stephanie Moran was cooking chicken on the stove in her apartment while her two children, Jarod Moran, 2, and Jamie Hamblin, 1, played in the kitchen. The pot was out of their reach on the back burner when Jarod pulled down the oven door and stood on it.

The stove began to tip over. The pot of boiling water and chicken flew into the air, landing on Jamie and scalding the lower right side of his body.

"Immediately I grabbed him," recalled Moran, 34, who lives near Dallas. "I could feel how hot his clothes were. He was burning." That was 12 years ago, but Moran said her son still faces surgery to reduce prominent scars.

The accident is one of about 84 injuries and 33 deaths caused by tipping stoves from 1980 to 2006 and documented by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Consumer groups called on retailers and manufacturers yesterday to take steps to prevent such accidents.

"Our concern is that the public is totally uninformed about these dangers. We think that everyone who has bought these should be notified," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. "This is a very serious source of potential harm in everyone's home."

All stoves have the potential to tip over. The problem can be prevented with an inexpensive, L-shaped bracket mounted on the back of the range. However, they have only been required by industry standards since 1991, and many older stoves may not have them. Consumer groups contend that even some newer ranges do not have them.

Joseph M. McGuire, president of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, said anti-tip devices are provided with all new stoves, along with a warning and installation instructions. Consumers can check for them by looking under the range or gently pulling the appliance to see whether it moves.

"The important thing to keep in mind is that when ranges are installed and used properly, they're very safe," McGuire said.

A spokesman for Sears, Roebuck, which sells about 800,000 stoves each year, more than any other retailer, declined to comment. Home Depot spokeswoman Jean Osta Niemi said the home-improvement company attaches anti-tip brackets free when customers request range installation. Buyers can choose between wall and floor mounts, she said. Lowe's spokeswoman Jennifer Wilson said the company asks whether customers want brackets installed and mounts them free.

The issue has gained prominence recently. Awaiting class-action certification is a lawsuit filed in February in Illinois circuit court on behalf of Sears shoppers who said they bought ranges but did not have the anti-tip brackets installed. Last month, Reps. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) sent a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission chairman requesting information on tipping accidents over the past three decades.

The Consumer Federation of America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups joined Public Citizen yesterday in criticizing the CPSC for what they characterized as its lack of response to the hazard. Julie Vallese, director of information and public affairs for the CPSC, said the commission has been looking into the issue.

"We're on a fact-finding mission," she said. "We do have a responsibility to review different voluntary standards and whether or not they're working. That is something that we're doing."

Reports about tipping stoves first began to surface in the early 1980s, after manufacturers switched from cast iron to lighter materials. In 1991, the nonprofit Underwriters Laboratories created nationally recognized voluntary standards for new ranges and required that they be fitted with anti-tip devices and include a warning in instruction manuals.

"Our requirements are very, very demanding," said John Drengenberg, engineer and manager of consumer affairs for Underwriters Laboratories.

Vallese said the CPSC worked closely with Underwriters Laboratories to develop the standards. Since they were implemented, three injuries and one death have been reported involving a range built after 1991 in which a bracket was not installed.

Moran said she settled her case against Sears, manufacturer White Consolidated Industries and her apartment complex a year after the accident. She would not disclose the amount of the settlement. In another case, a Los Angeles woman received $20 million from Frigidaire Home Products and a local retailer after her range tipped over and scalded her son and two nephews with a simmering pot of stew. The children suffered third-degree burns over half their bodies.

Two deaths were recorded last year by the CPSC. One occurred in October in Elmira, N.Y., after an 18-month-old boy and his 3-year-old brother tried to reach cookies on top of a stove. The range tipped over, killing the baby. In December, an 18-month-old girl in Bradenton, Fla., died after a stove fell on her.

Of her son's accident, Moran said: "I took every precaution I knew. I had never heard of a stove tipping over. I never imagined it."


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