Whirlpool not responsible for man's 'lunchtime multitasking' injury - judge

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
  • Plaintiff said manual encouraged installation too low over stove
  • Judge finds injury was not foreseeable

(Reuters) - A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit by an Illinois pastor who suffered a brain injury after striking his head on a Whirlpool Corp cooking vent, which he alleged was installed dangerously low because of a faulty instructions manual.

U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger ruled Monday that plaintiff Alvin Lloyd had not established a "natural string event" linking the Michigan-based company to the October 2017 accident.

Tom Soule of Patton & Ryan, a lawyer for Whirlpool, said the company was pleased with the ruling.

A lawyer for Lloyd did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In his 2019 lawsuit, filed in state court and later removed to federal court by the company, Lloyd said the accident occurred while he was cooking bacon on the stove in his apartment while working on his laptop nearby.

"That lunchtime multi-tasking took a turn for the worse when he started smelling something burning," Seeger wrote Monday, summarizing the complaint.

Lloyd said he struck his head on the hood, which was 24 inches above the cooking surface, or a little more than five feet above the ground. While he was initially only "dazed," he was subsequently diagnosed with internal bleeding requiring surgery, and suffered ongoing memory problems that interfered with his job as a pastor, Lloyd said in a 2021 deposition.

Lloyd alleged that the hood was defectively designed because its manual showed a diagram with the hood marked with a minimum height of 24 inches above the stove. He said that this created the impression that 24 inches was the correct height.

Seeger noted in his opinion that the hood was installed before Lloyd moved into the apartment where the accident happened, and there was no evidence that Whirlpool could have foreseen it.

"Maybe it is foreseeable that people will burn things on a stovetop, and even start the occasional kitchen fire," Seeger wrote. "Maybe it is foreseeable the people could be in a rush to put out those fires. And maybe it is foreseeable that if you install a range hood too low, you could hit your head."

"But it is not foreseeable that an instruction manual setting a minimum height for a hood would lead an installer to think that the minimum height is the only height, and that installing a hood with that assumption would lead to an injury," the judge concluded.

The case is Lloyd v. Whirlpool Corp, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 1:19-cv-06225.

For Lloyd: Edward Moor of Moor Law Office

For Whirlpool: John Patton of Patton & Ryan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.