Appliance retailers sued over dryer vents

ATLANTA, May 21 (Reuters) - Appliance retailers Sears Holdings Corp SHLD.O, Lowe's Cos Inc LOW.N and hhgregg Inc HGG.N were charged with improperly installing dryer vents in federal lawsuits seeking class-action status on Wednesday.

The lawsuits state the retailers’ installers attached metal foil or plastic vents to dryers sold to consumers instead of heavy metal ones recommended by manufacturers, creating conditions that could cause fires or death.

The suits seek unspecified monetary damages and corrective action for consumers whose vents were installed improperly. Appliance retailers typically charge a fee for installation.

“These retailers are selling their installation services and then they are (installing) in a way that they know can ultimately be a fire hazard,” said Paul Geller, a Boca Raton, attorney who represents plaintiffs in the lawsuits.

Sears Holdings, the nation’s top seller of appliances based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, declined to comment, saying it had not seen details of the lawsuit.

Representatives for Lowe’s and hhgregg did not immediately return calls and e-mails seeking comment.

The lawsuit against Sears, filed in U.S. District Court in Illinois, states that clothes dryers were involved in more than 15,000 U.S. structure fires, 15 deaths and $99 million in property damage annually between 2002 and 2004.

“The leading cause of clothes dryer fires is due to improper installation of vents and excessive build-up of lint within the dryer,” the lawsuit says.

The Lowe’s and hhgregg actions were filed in federal court in North Carolina and Indiana, respectively, where the companies are based. (Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Editing by Andre Grenon)