Kidde purposely ignored the defects in its products, consumer advocates say.
Kidde has faced multiple consumer lawsuits concerning its defective fire extinguishers. In 2015, it recalled more than four million of them. Then, in December, the Department of Justice (DOJ) partnered with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to file a new complaint against the company for failing to “inform the CPSC in a timely manner” about continued issued it was having with the product.
In its suit, DOJ alleged “prior to the 2015 recall, Kidde significantly underreported the scope and nature of the defect and risk, and the number of products and models affected. After the CPSC learned the enormity of the situation in late 2017, Kidde issued another recall, this one covering nearly 38 million extinguishers in the U.S., produced as far back as 1973.”
Carrier Global, the parent company of Kidde, reported $18.6 billion in gross profits in 2019, and the company agreed to settle for a fine of $12 million in January. The issue is, although a settlement has been reached, the underlying problem of concealing defects evident with a product that’s supposed to help save lives has not been remedied.
“These are profound violations of CPSC’s core regulations and principles,” says Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and general counsel at the Consumer Federation of America.
Back in 2015, a federal judge ruled a “reasonable jury” might find “Kidde was recklessly indifferent as to the safety of its customers.” Complaints filed with the CPSC cited, “What’s more, the company has seriously mishandled the recall process.” And, Oriene Shin, Consumer Report’s policy counsel for product safety, said, “It’s bad enough that Kidde’s faulty fire extinguishers left people at risk for decades, but it’s downright appalling to learn how Kidde handled the issue after discovering it. The company’s repeated failures, delays, and alleged misrepresentations are outrageous.”
There are numerous court documents alleging similar violations nationwide. According to records, in the early ‘90s, Wisconsin residents alleged their home was damaged after a Kidde extinguisher failed to put out a wood-burning stove blaze. In 2002, an Arkansas resident said his farm equipment was destroyed for the same reason, and in 2005, a California woman stated she suffered “life-altering injuries from a fire that started in her vehicle and couldn’t be put out by a Kidde extinguisher.”
The company defended itself to these allegations by stating in a 2015 court memo, “Fire extinguishers, like many other products, are designed to be as easy to use as practicably possible given their utility, but they can be misused – especially in the emotionally intense situation of a fire.” However, consumer advocates would argue that these products should be reliable and easy to use in emergency situations.
“Consumers can’t help but trust that, if a product is put up for sale, it is safe, and manufacturers and retailers are expected to deliver on that promise,” says R. David Pittle, a former CR technical director and one of the first CPSC commissioners back when the agency was first created in the early 1970s. “In order to do that, manufacturers need to know about and respond quickly when problems arise. It is essential to learn how consumers are experiencing the product. In general, if the person who’s in charge of the quality control function is not looped in to receive copies of consumer complaints, the corrective potential of the information is lost. It’s like flying blind.”