Charleston, West Virginia
Not resolved

In the fall of 2013, my Whirlpool cooking stove from Lowes was delivered. It came with free installation. We make home-cooked meals, bake bread, and make everything from scratch so we used the stove frequently. Shortly afterward, my adult children and I started getting sick. We thought it was the flu because it was that time of year. I brought my mother home from the rehabilitation facility where she went after her hospitalization. She was walking, talking, and happy to be home. She wanted homemade meals, so we made them for her. Within three days, she started speaking incoherently and sleeping excessively. We thought it was all the excitement of being at home. Six days after she came home, she collapsed and I could not get her awake. Her face was red and she was unresponsive. I had to lift her to safety because she fell in a corner of the bathroom and her neck was strained. I got her to safety and called 911. When the paramedics arrived, they put her on oxygen and she started to regain consciousness. She was admitted to the hospital and died three weeks later due to kidney failure.

I found out later from a gas company inspection that the Whirlpool cooking stove was putting out nearly 680 ppm (parts per million) of carbon monoxide (CO) within minutes of being turned on. The CO level built up to even higher levels in the house due to the fact it was winter and the doors and windows were closed. Research into CO levels indicate, “For healthy adults CO becomes toxic when it reaches a level higher than 35 ppm (parts per million) with continuous exposure over an eight hour period. When the level of CO becomes higher than that a person will suffer from symptoms of exposure. Mild exposure over 2-3 hours (a CO level between 35 ppm and 200 ppm) will produce flu-like symptoms such as headaches, sore eyes and a runny nose. Medium exposure (a CO level between 200 ppm to 800 ppm) will produce dizziness, drowsiness and vomiting in as little as 1 hour. This level of exposure is deemed to be life threatening once three hours has passed. Extreme exposure (a CO level of 800 ppm and higher) will result in unconsciousness, brain damage and death in as little as a few minutes. OSHA guidelines state that the maximum exposure over an eight hour time period is 35 ppm (http://www.carbon-”

Shortly afterward, my mother’s little dog, Gracie, died as well because she had a heart murmur and, evidently, the exposure to CO was fatal. Throughout the following year, I had some serious health problems as a result of lifting my mother. I had to have neck surgery which required a fusion of the discs. I had to undergo physical therapy and epidural injections in my neck for the pain. It has taken two years to recover.

I contacted Lowes and reported the incident immediately after it was discovered. I asked why their installers did not measure CO levels during installation to make certain appliances were safe. They told me that they didn’t have the equipment (which cost about $1,000 per unit) and the equipment was too expensive for their installers to purchase. They stopped speaking to me because they said they didn’t want to get in trouble and told me I had to contact their in-house claims adjuster. Even though I was expressing my concern and not talking about money, the adjuster’s first, sarcastic response was something to the effect that this was not a “million dollar claim”. She, then, referred me to the in-house Whirlpool adjuster. Both Lowes and Whirlpool self-insure. Whirlpool sent a repairman to the house. He came in, stuck his head in the oven while it was on, stated there was no carbon monoxide because the flames were blue, and left. He was in the house perhaps five minutes.

The Whirlpool adjuster did not take my claim seriously and gave the impression it was a “nuisance claim”. Because my mother was elderly and had some health issues, they said, in essence, her life had no value. I did not want to file suit, but I hired an attorney to negotiate the claim. He said that it was very difficult to win a CO suit against a corporation. Whirlpool ultimately paid nothing for my mother and $20,000 for myself, two of my adult children, and my attorney (we each received $5,000 which was taxable). Lowes did nothing except replace the stove which took more than a month. We had to go through Christmas and New Year’s without one.

In criminology, corporate violence refers to serious injury or death of consumers or others as a result of corporate decision making resulting from their action or inaction. In this situation, I believe the lack of consumer protection during manufacturing of the cooking stove by Whirlpool and the lack of CO testing by Lowes during installation led to the death of an elderly person and severe sickness in others. If we had not discovered the cause of the faulty stove, it could easily have been fatal for us as well.

If my mother had been killed by a delivery driver for Lowes or Whirlpool, the driver would have faced manslaughter charges and the corporation would be financially responsible. However, since the actions or inactions of the corporate executives of Lowes and Whirlpool were involved, there were no criminal charges and, evidently, no liability. This is reflective of the values of corporate leadership which puts the resources of the corporation against the resources of the consumer in order to avoid taking responsibility.

I believe this type of corporate violence is inexcusable and indicates a lack of accountability and responsibility by the corporations involved. What is the value of one more day with your mother . . . or one more week. . . one more month . . . or one more year? What is the value of personal health and a life-changing injury which takes it away? I believe Whirlpool and Lowes took my mother from us prematurely and determined that her life had no value because she was elderly. They reduced everything to dollars and cents ultimately determining that we were wasting their time with our “nuisance claim”.

What can we take away from this? NEVER, EVER assume appliances are safe because they are installed for you. ALWAYS have gas appliances checked before use to make sure they are safe. To check for carbon monoxide levels, you can call your local fire department or gas company. Most will check CO levels without charge if there are indications of risk. However, for routine checks, they may charge homeowners. Otherwise, you can insist that your installer conduct a CO level test after installation as part of the purchase.

I am asking that you forward this message to your friends and relatives. Protect your loved ones from becoming a victim of this type of corporate violence. It is important that we stand together and hold companies like Whirlpool and Lowes accountable for their products and actions. We cannot trust them to protect us, so we must take action to insure these corporations take situations such as this seriously. Only with knowledge can we protect each other.

Product or Service Mentioned: Whirlpool Range.

Reason of review: Damaged or defective.

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