March, 2016: When I started having trouble with the Norcold refrigerator in my 2012 motorhome, I began researching and ran across this RV forum discussion: Norcold Class Action Suit Settled. (See my page – Norcold RV Refrigerators – for full report of issues I discovered about mine and Norcold products in general).
Update May, 2016:
Despite the objections of some of the named plaintiffs in the original complaint, The judge agreed to the settlement proposal (see 3/29/16 Order). Here’s the current status and what needs to be done to participate in the settlement proceeds: Etter et al v. Norcold, Inc.
See below for reasons why this settlement does not adequately compensate those affected, and also doesn’t do anything to assure that Norcold won’t continue operating in the same old way and continue to put the public in jeopardy, all the while falsely assuring us we are safe using their products.
Another Norcold Warning (IRV2.com forum – 3/21/16 Update) – From Plaintiff Jeffrey Etter: Basically the plaintiffs are split into two camps. The ORIGINAL PLAINTIFFS who brought this case (myself included) objected to a highly inadequate settlement that did virtually nothing to resolve the danger faced by approximately 1,000,000 RV owners who have a potential hydrogen bomb in their RV. The settling plaintiffs (not the original group who brought this case) wanted to take the inadequate money and run – with a massive settlement for the two firms who were willing to sell out the interests of the class for their fees. For most of the original plaintiffs this has never been about the amount of money that we might be awarded. It is about the case that there are 1,000,000 RV owners out there that have a potential explosive bomb waiting to go off and burn their RV to the ground – and possibly maim or kill them and their family members. This problem needs to be resolved for everyone who owns a Norcold refrigerator unit. But it won’t be if the attorneys are worried about their fees and a few plaintiffs are willing to accept a personal settlement to their benefit and the detriment of the class.
Dissident Plaintiffs Want $33M Fridge Settlement Tossed (3/16/15) – A group of plaintiffs in a proposed class action against Norcold over allegedly defective refrigerators asked a California judge on Friday to deny preliminary approval of a proposed $33 million settlement, saying that the companies have misrepresented their financial condition. “The refrigerators continue to catch on fire at a rate of four a week … and this settlement does nothing to address that continuing public safety concern.”
In reading over the Original Complaint filed 12/12/12, the former litigation legal assistant in me went a little crazy. I’d worked for a legal malpractice attorney for over 10 years and I thought I had heard it all, but I could hardly believe how long this company knew of the dangers inherent in their products and how they chose to handle it. Surely this is one of the worst cases of corporate irresponsibility I’ve ever heard of!
Here are just some of the things that make my blood boil, some direct quotes and paragraphs from the lawsuit and some my recap. Whoever reads the details of this case, whether they have a Norcold refrigerator or not, should be outraged, in my opinion.
The Petition addresses the recalls Norcold has done and in order to keep these pages organized, easy to read and helpful as possible, I broke out a separate page about Norcold Refrigerator Recalls, so check that out for the details on the different recalls done and their effects outlined in the Petition and from other sources.
3. Since at least 1997, Defendants have designed and sold three models of gas absorption refrigerators, all of which share common design and manufacturing defects that create a substantial risk of fire when the refrigerators are used as designed and for their intended purpose. As of the date of this Complaint, Defendants are receiving new fire claims at a rate of 1 to 2 per day.
5. Rather than eliminate the design and manufacturing defects … or provide adequate warning of potential safety risks… Defendants instead sought to conceal and minimize the dangers inherent in the…design and operation.
28. All gas absorption refrigerators share the same technology, which involves a process whereby a solution of ammonia, water, sodium chromate and hydrogen gas is heated until it boils, releasing ammonia gas, which circulates through a series of tubes, (‘cooling unit’).
I can’t understand all the technical terminology, but apparently the steel tubing used in the cooling units is not adequate to endure the stresses during normal operation. Cracks happen causing flammable ammonia and hydrogen gas under high pressure to leak, resulting in fires.
32. Since at least 1999, Defendants maintained databases (Incident Logs, etc.) documenting the fire history and were well aware their defects were causing millions of dollars of property damage, personal injury and even death. But their strategy was misrepresenting the facts about the nature and number of defects and their effects. Even their field testing protocol were not representative of actual use conditions and they knew this as well.
Proposed Settlement Issues:
Order Denying Without Prejudice Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement (10/14/14) – According to this order, the court does not like the allocation between the different refrigerator series owners and says it does not adequately represent the entire Settlement Class.
Redacted Version of Order Denying Without Prejudice Settling Plaintiffs’ Supplemental Motion for Preliminary Approval and Requiring the Filing of a Publicly Available Redacted Version of this Order (6/15/15) – Explanation of the rationale of the Court’s ruling on page 18: “…the Court finds that the proposed distribution is not fair, adequate and reasonable.” (“The coupons offered by GM simply do not address the safety defect that formed the central basis of the amended complaint. The failure of this settlement to abate the lingering safety problem, despite the…arguments for some recall or retrofit in the initial complaint, enhances our conviction that this settlement is inadequate.”)
Thankfully, the Court “gets” it: “An extended warranty that allows consumers to replace a product after it corrodes, cracks and leaks, and potentially catches on fire, does not help remedy the serious safety risks that these consumers currently face.”
Interesting that the Court says that despite Norcold/Thetford position about their insurance coverage and ability to pay a larger settlement than this $33 million proposal, including threats that they might have to file bankruptcy, “The Court, however, nevertheless believes that Defendants may have the ability to pay a higher settlement amount.” Page 22 starts with the redaction of their projected cash flows and profits.
And why wouldn’t they? They’ve been reaping the benefits of the sales of their defective units and even profiting from the inadequate recall remedies since 1997!
Norcold Class Action Suit Settled (9/12/14) – A group of people at great personal costs to themselves in terms of time and energy have spent two and a half years to attempt to rectify this situation on behalf of almost 1,000,000 people they will never meet – such as yourselves. We have traveled across the country to be deposed. Spent hours collecting, copying, scanning documents to be entered into evidence. Unfortunately two of the firms involved in this case have constructed a settlement in this case which is a lousy settlement that is objected to by a sizeable number of the named plaintiffs – not because of the amount of money involved in the settlement, but because it leaves hundreds of thousands of people at risk of property loss, personal injury, and potentially death. Out of the $33 million settlement, $8.2 million will go to the attorneys, and $2.5 will go to administrative expenses associated with the administration of the “proposed” class action settlement (e.g. 33%).
Exploding RV Refrigerators Spark a War Among Plaintiff Lawyers (Forbes – 11/6/14) – “This is a public-safety issue,” said Beard, a trial lawyer who … won a $500,000 settlement in a Norcold case last year. “These refrigerators are burning up at a rate of three to five a week.” Attorneys … negotiated a $33 million settlement that would pay the average Norcold owner $57 — new, the refrigerators cost $1,000 to $4,000 — and do nothing to force the company to change its design.
Malia’s Comment: That’s the problem with lawsuits like this – the attorneys get the bulk of the money!
Beard has obtained from Thetford “incident logs” showing the company has processed thousands of claims since the late 1990s, many of them over leaks and fires. A company engineer also testified in a 2012 deposition that Norcold has paid claims on more than 800 fires allegedly caused by its 1200 series refrigerator since 1999. The total payout for all claims since 2001, according to that spreadsheet, is over $60 million. Yet the company hasn’t changed the design that a Thetford employee acknowledged in testimony lies at the heart of the problem, a metal boiler tube that can crack, allowing flammable gases to escape. (Sweden’s Dometic Group makes refrigerators with a similar design, which have also been the subject of lawsuits and an NHTSA recall.)
(This article also shows pictures of burnt out RVs.)
4/22/16 Update: RV Owners Sue Dometic Over Fire-Prone Refrigerators (RV Daily Report on a newly filed nationwide class action lawsuit against Dometic).
Norcold to Pay $33 Million to Settle Class Action Lawsuits (RV Pro Magazine – 12/12/14) – “The lawsuit applies to recalls that affect up to 141,922 units of the 12-series, plus 303,882 N6-series units and 123,879 N8-series units. A quick calculation reveals that this will leave everyone with $57.93 minus expenses. This doesn’t quite cover the cost of replacing the cooling unit I’m afraid. (You think?!)
Law 360 Recaps – Has links to several articles about the proposed settlement.
Misc. Articles and Discussions about Lawsuit:
Posts from named Plaintiff Jeffrey Etter (JLE Seminole in forum) to set the record straight – Norcold Class Action Suit Settled: Here’s the problem: The combination of the insufficient boiler tubing thickness and the corrosive materials used in the chemical solutions cause the boilers to fail over time. There are in excess of 1,000,000 of these defective boilers currently in use in RV’s all across the United States and Canada.
We’re not just talking money matters here… FIRE!
JLE: Some people on these forums want to call into question the number of fires that have been reported. Well, the number of fires reported are actually from Norcold’s own incident logs that were discovered in depositions. These reports are FIRES, not failures of the cooling units. There are THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS of additional cooling units that have ruptured and exploded, and not resulted in fires, but have resulted in thousands of dollars worth of repairs to the owners.
Consumers in California and Florida have filed a defective products class action lawsuit alleging that the manufacturers of Norcold gas absorption refrigerators knowingly sold defective refrigerators that posed a serious fire risk but hid that information from the public and federal regulators. The lawsuit alleges that since 1999, Norcold’s refrigerators have caused at least 2,000 fires resulting in millions of dollars in property damage, personal injury and death. Further it’s alleged that the devices provided by the companies to “fix” the defects were not only ineffective to remedy the propensity of the refrigerators to cause fires, but were designed, when triggered, to render the refrigerators inoperable and unrepairable, requiring users to purchase new refrigerators that contained the same design and manufacturing defects as the originals, and which had the same propensity to cause fires.
Another Norcold Warning – Post of Plaintiff Jeffrey Etter 3/21/16: The final arguments in the case regarding the pending certification of the class/objections to certification were made in early October of 2015 and a ruling was expected on November 12th, 2015. However NOT A WORD has been heard from the Judge in the last 4 months.
(Different stories, same ripoff)
$7 Million Products Liability Settlement in Arkansas (2006) – An Arkansas woman whose husband died of smoke inhalation and burns in a camper fire resulting from a refrigerator defect settled her lawsuit against Norcold and a camper dealership for $7 million last week. The cause of the fire was cracked tubing in the Norcold refrigerator, which resulted in the leaking of flammable hydrogen. Norcold apparently knew of the potential fire hazard as early as 1999…But the Plaintiff did not receive a recall notice until 6 years after Norcold knew of the defect.
Lots of comments from other folks who had fires looking to sue.
American Security Insurance v. Norcold, et al (Case No. 1:2010cv22778 filed 8/2/10 Florida Southern District Court) – I haven’t found petition or other info on this case yet, but as time allows, I’ll research this one more.
State Farm v. Norcold, et al (Court of Appeal of Louisiana No. 11-1355 decided 4/4/12) – On December 4, 2008, a motor home caught fire due to a defective refrigeration unit. The fire destroyed the motor home and adjacent building, together with all contents therein, all of which were owned by Ronald and Dolores Semar. Therefore, the trial court rendered judgment awarding penalties and attorney fees in the amount of $531,214.00 and penalties and attorney fees in the amount of $518,786.00 in favor of State Farm against AHAC only.
Malia’s Two Cents: I know this is not the kind of fun stuff we started RVing for, but seriously – how can we know about this going on and do nothing about it?! I intend to keep up with this and as I make sure I’m current with what’s happening, I want to start a letter writing campaign to manufacturers like Winnebago, Tiffin and as many others as I can find to ask why they keep installing these dangerous appliances in the products they sell. I hope my friends will support this effort by commenting below with any information they have and once I compile the list of manufacturers to contact, I will compose a letter that you can use to participate in this protest. It’s obvious Norcold and Dometic are not really going to do anything about this in response to the end users of their products because if we want propane powered refrigerators, we’re pretty much powerless if the manufacturers keep installing them without any demand that they be made safer.
I seldom ask for help, but this is so important, not just to me, but to all RVers who have these ticking time bomb refrigerators in their rolling homes. I fulltimed for 15 years before I truly became aware of the nature and scope of these problems, even though I had another Norcold in an older motorhome that had at least three recall fixes done. It’s ridiculous, but it seems that the problems are getting worse and more serious, not better. We need to stick together regarding this issue, so please comment on any (or all) of the related pages linked below. Tell me your story, suggestions, etc. I’ve gotten lots of emails and private messages, but since I intend to share these pages of research with the NHTSA, manufacturers and dealers to ask why more is not being done to protect consumers from these dangers, the more support shown on these pages, the better. Please comment below and/or on other pages and spread the word!
All Malia’s Miles Norcold pages: