ASHEBORO, N.C. (CN) - A man burned to death when his Whirlpool refrigerator overheated to more than 1,000 degrees and fire-balled him in the face as he opened it, his family claims
Jane Walker Payne sued Whirlpool Corp. on behalf of Ashley Alvin Walker, in Randolph County Superior Court. In March 2002, Walker bought a Whirlpool refrigerator which had a defective heating element pin in its icemaker, according to the complaint. The family claims that despite warranty repairs a short occurred in the heating element in January 2012, causing the fridge to overheat to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The appliance began to smoke and activated the smoke alarm in Walker's home. When Walker saw smoke coming out of the fridge he opened the freezer door, unaware of the high temperature inside. The rush of oxygen generated a fireball that burned Walker's face and body, and damaged his lungs. "In what must have been extreme agony, decedent managed to pull himself from his kitchen to the front door," the complaint states. "Eventually, he was rushed to the hospital by emergency personnel, but unfortunately, it was too late. He died later that day from his injuries. His death certificate lists the cause of death as 'acute thermal injury.'" The family says the fire destroyed much of Walker's home and belongings. They claim that Whirlpool, like other major appliance manufacturers, cuts corners to save money and sacrifices product quality. Major appliances cause about 150,000 house fires each year, resulting in 3,500 injuries, 150 deaths and more than $540 million in property damage. Major manufacturers recalled 1.6 million refrigerators from 2007 to 2011, according to the lawsuit. The family seeks compensatory and punitive damages for negligence, failure to warn, breach of warranty and negligent repair. They are represented by John Ormand III with Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, of Greensboro. Whirlpool did not respond to a request for comment.