United States District Court, E.D. New York
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Y. SHIELDS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a personal injury case commenced by Plaintiff, Rivka
Reichmann (“Plaintiff” or
“Reichmann”), against Defendants, Whirlpool
Corporation and KitchenAid, Inc. (collectively
“Whirlpool”). Plaintiff is a consumer who purchased
and used Whirlpool's refrigerator-freezer (the
“Appliance”). She claims injury following her
fall on a puddle of water caused by a defect in the
Appliance. Presently before the Court is Defendant's
motion for summary judgment. See Docket Entry herein
(“DE”) . For the reasons set forth below, the
motion is denied.
Basis of Facts Recited Herein
support of their motion, Defendants have properly filed a
statement of facts in accord with Rule 56.1 of the Local
Rules of the United States District Courts for the Southern
and Eastern Districts of New York (“Rule 56.1”).
Plaintiff has also properly filed her Rule 56.1 Statement.
The facts set forth below are drawn from the parties'
statements. Unless otherwise indicated, the facts are agreed
Whirlpool and the Product at Issue
designs and manufactures home appliances, including
combination refrigerator-freezers. Defendants' Rule 56.1
Statement (DE ) at ¶ 1. Whirlpool sells its
refrigerator-freezers, such as the Appliance, to trade
customers who then sell them to consumers. Id. at
Operation of the Freezer Compartment in the
freezer compartment of the Appliance is positioned below the
refrigerator portion. Id. That freezer is a
“no-frost” freezer, which automatically defrosts
so that a consumer does not need to periodically unplug the
freezer to get rid of built-up frost. Id. at ¶
8. In no-frost freezers, melted frost, called
“condensate” is drained outside of the freezer
compartment, typically through a tube or funnel at the bottom
of the freezer compartment. Id. at ¶ 10.
Issues Surrounding the Use of Duckbill Valves
around 2010, Whirlpool began using
“duckbill-style” valves as part of a drain system
to help drain condensate from the freezer compartment in
certain bottom-mount combination refrigerator-freezers. After
receiving consumer complaints of excess frost buildup,
Whirlpool added duckbill valves to the drain process to limit
the amount of airflow from the refrigerator-freezer's
machine compartment (i.e., where the mechanical
components of the unit are located) into the freezer
compartment, thereby reducing frost accumulation in the
freezer compartment. Id. at ¶ 11. The Appliance
was one of the Whirlpool bottom-mount refrigerator-freezers
that utilized a duckbill valve. Id. at ¶ 12.
2011, Whirlpool became aware that due to the short length of
the duckbill valves, water passing through those valves would
occasionally freeze, which would clog the drain valve. That
clogging would reduce the ability of condensate to drain from
the freezer compartment, and could allow a layer of ice to
form at the bottom of the freezer compartment. If that layer
of ice was allowed to grow, the condensate water could then
exit the bottom of the refrigerator and leak onto the floor
underneath and around the refrigerator. Id. at
¶ 13. Plaintiff takes issue with Defendants'
characterization of where the water leaking from a freezer
would go. It is obvious that such water would first leak
underneath the refrigerator (as Defendants' state) and
eventually to the area of the floor surrounding the
refrigerator (as Plaintiff states).
prevent water from freezing in the short duckbill valves
originally used, in or around 2011, Whirlpool began using
longer duckbill valves in its bottom-mount refrigerator
freezers. Id. at ¶ 14. In or around 2012,
Whirlpool began to notice that some of the long duckbill
valves were also causing drainage problems, which also
resulted in leaking. Id. at ¶ 15. Thereafter,
Whirlpool investigated potential solutions for the clogged
duckbill valves. Id. at ¶ 18.
Whirlpool implemented the use of “p trap” valves
instead of duckbill valves. Id. Whirlpool also
implemented a p-trap service solution for consumers who had
refrigerator-freezers with duckbill valves. In August and
November of 2013, Whirlpool issued “Technical Service
Pointers” (which are communications from Whirlpool to
technicians regarding the proper way to diagnose and repair
products in the field) on the subject of clogged duckbills.
Technical Service Pointers issued in August and November 2013
instructed service technicians to replace duckbill valves
with p-trap valves. Id. at ¶ 20-21. Whirlpool
fielded thousands of service calls arising from clogged
duckbill valves. Id. at ¶ 23.
Claims Arising out of Clogged Duckbill Valves
has produced a list of claims and lawsuits brought prior to
Plaintiff's July 10, 2015 injury with allegations of
leaking water from all refrigerator-freezers with duckbill
valves. The list contains 532 matters. Of these matters, all
were for property damage. None were for personal injury, and
prior to Plaintiff's claim there were no slip and fall
claims made to Whirlpool as a result of water exiting a
refrigerator as a result of a clogged duckbill. Id.
at ¶ 24.
takes issue with Defendants' characterization of prior
lawsuits. It is Plaintiff's position that Whirlpool has,
indeed, been sued for personal injuries caused by leaks from
refrigerators. In support of this allegation, Plaintiff
refers to the case of Deeds v. Whirlpool, S.D.
Texas, No. H:15-cv-2208. Id. at ¶ 41. Plaintiff
also states that Whirlpool's representation regarding
lawsuits refers only to those commenced prior to
Plaintiff's lawsuit, and that it has not produced
documents regarding actions filed after Plaintiff's
lawsuit. Id. Plaintiff further states that
Whirlpool's records document a concern of slip and fall
injury caused by clogged duckbills. Id. at ¶
Plaintiff's Purchase of the ...