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Gas Appliance Manufacturers: Limit Your Exposure to Potential Litigation

You may have seen a spike in media coverage about claimed health hazards from the use of gas stoves, an escalating issue that risks implicating manufacturers of all gas-powered appliances in litigation. This post will briefly report on this topic and offer a high-level view of how gas manufacturing clients can limit their exposure to potential litigation.

Background: Health Study Claims Asthma Is Attributable to Gas Stoves

Gas stoves are a familiar and well-loved feature of American kitchens. Close to 40% of homes and over 75% of restaurants in the United States cook with a gas stove, according to a 2022 Consumer Reports survey. Gas stoves burn natural gas via direct combustion, which emits miniscule amounts of combustion by-products such as nitrogen oxides. In December 2022, a published health study contended that nitrogen oxide emissions from gas stoves can lead to asthma and other respiratory illnesses in children. The study reached the headline-grabbing conclusion that 12% of childhood asthma in the United States was attributable to gas stove use.

Since then, a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) commissioner commented that the federal agency would consider banning gas stoves nationwide. The CPSC chair walked back this comment a few weeks later, but the flame was already lit (so to speak). The “gas stoves cause asthma” tagline sparked by the December study was established as proven in the media and among consumers. Indeed, your customer service or technical employees might already have reported complaints or questions raised by homeowners about your gas-appliance products.

Risk of Litigation Against Gas Appliance Manufacturers

Litigation is just beginning on the purported health risk of gas stoves. The first salvo came in the form of a putative class action lawsuit filed this month in California. There, the plaintiff argues she and putative class members would not have bought gas stoves at the price advertised if the manufacturers had adequately warned them about the products’ alleged risks. We have seen similar cases in which product liability claims are disguised as consumer class actions, with attendant advantages to the plaintiff’s bar; the “injury” threshold is lower, the number of potential clients is higher, and the opportunity to recover statutory damages and attorney fees is available.

Additionally, plaintiff’s firms are advertising online for personal injury litigation, which likely will allege a plaintiff’s (or their child’s) asthma condition was caused by a manufacturer’s gas appliance. We expect plaintiffs’ attorneys would work from a familiar playbook: an amorphous injury with many potential causes is conveniently linked to a product made by a perceived deep-pocketed manufacturer. While gas stoves are firmly within the crosshairs, we are concerned the same theory of defect and causation will be asserted against manufacturers of heaters, fireplaces and other gas-powered appliances.

Next Steps for Gas Appliance Manufacturers

Manufacturers facing a risk of litigation over this claimed link between gas appliances and respiratory illness would do well to take preventative steps, including:

  • Review and update template responses to customer complaints.
  • Engage in a preemptive document review to identify potentially adverse documents, particularly historical ones.
  • Prepare for a CPSC or other federal or state government inquiry.

Nilan Johnson Lewis offers its support and expertise in defending your organization and its gas-appliance products. From our decades of experience representing manufacturers in similar litigation, we are well-positioned to defend our clients. We scrutinize the science behind such claims. We take a critical eye toward alleged levels of exposure, and we identify variables (ventilation, frequency of appliance use, environmental factors) that might impact their accumulation. We challenge tenuous causation theories and the reliability of studies that claim to support them. In defending clients swept up in class-action litigation, we aggressively challenge the legal parameters of such claims upfront, and demand claimants meet the rigorous standards for class treatment. And we maintain focus start-to-finish on the product itself, and its well-established history of safe operation.

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