On September 17, 2010 Lowe’s Home Centers, Inc. settled a class action lawsuit brought in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina by consumers who contracted with Lowe’s for the installation of clothes dryers in their homes and businesses. The lawsuit alleged that the “skilled, trained, experienced [and] equipped” installation technicians employed by Lowe’s used metal foil ducts to vent the dryers, in clear contravention of the dryer manufacturers’ instructions. The operative complaint cited a warning specifically instructing consumers and installers “[d]o not use a metal foil vent” and further cautioning “[f]ailure to follow these instructions can result in death or fire.” This warning was included with the clothes dryers installed by Lowe’s—either on the dryer itself or in the product instruction manual—and was uniformly ignored by the Lowe’s installers.
The warnings accompanying the dryers are not the only indication of the danger associated with the use of a metal foil duct. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, in a June, 2003 publication entitled Overheated Clothes Dryers can Cause Fires, warned that “foil type duct can more easily trap lint and is more susceptible to kinks or crushing, which can greatly reduce the airflow.” Lint build-up in, and reduced airflow through, dryer ducts are among the leading causes of dryer-related fires. Thus, even in the absence of manufacturer instructions warning against the use of a metal foil duct, the Lowe’s installation practice constituted a clear deviation from the standard of care applicable to professional appliance installers.
It is currently unknown how many fires have been caused by the use of metal foil ducting, and the class action suit did not seek damages for such fires. Rather, the injury alleged in the lawsuit was the improper installation itself, and its creation of a dangerous condition which could lead to fire, injury or death. Thus, the settlement of the class action will not adversely impact a subrogating insurer’s ability to recover against Lowe’s where the defective mode of installation causes a fire.
The practice of using metal foil duct to vent clothes dryers is likely not limited to dryer installations performed by Lowe’s. As such, a subrogating insurer investigating a fire originating in the area of a clothes dryer should be alert to this installation issue, even where the dryer was installed by a party other than Lowe’s. Additionally, where the cause of action relating to a foil duct installation is time-barred by statute, product liability causes of action against the foil duct manufacturer or seller may provide additional, unbarred avenues for subrogation recovery.
Cozen O’Connor’s subrogation attorneys are committed to working with experts and adjusters to identify and recover on losses caused by metal foil dryer ducts. If an insurer believes that a fire loss involved metal foil ducting, it should contact Cozen O’Connor immediately for our assistance in taking advantage of the favorable recovery picture highlighted by the Lowe’s class action.