Vik­ing Range to pay $4.7M fine over self-start­ing ovens

Cus­tomers could not get the ovens turned off

The Commercial Appeal - - Business - JEFF AMY

JACK­SON, Miss. - A Mis­sis­sippi ap­pli­ance maker has agreed to pay a $4.7 mil­lion fed­eral fine for not re­port­ing that cer­tain ovens in free­stand­ing gas ranges could turn on by them­selves, with cus­tomers then some­times un­able to turn them off.

The U.S. Con­sumer Prod­uct Safety Com­mis­sion an­nounced the fine Thurs­day against Vik­ing Range, say­ing the com­pany had 170 re­ports of prob­lems with 15 mod­els it sold be­tween 2007 and 2014 be­fore it no­ti­fied the fed­eral watch­dog agency.

The Green­wood, Mis­sis­sippi, man­u­fac­turer was bought in 2012 by Mid­dleby Corp. of El­gin, Illi­nois.

Vik­ing sold more than 60,000 ranges in the United States and Canada with the de­fect be­tween July 2007 and June 2014. The ap­pli­ances were lux­ury goods, cost­ing be­tween $4,000 and $13,000. It is­sued a re­call in May 2015, say­ing it could fix the prob­lem with in-home re­pairs.

Un­der Thurs­day’s set­tle­ment, the com­pany doesn’t ad­mit to vi­o­lat­ing any fed­eral rules.

“Since the Mid­dleby ac­qui­si­tion of Vik­ing, the top pri­or­ity has been on mak­ing the ap­pli­ances top qual­ity and bring­ing the lat­est in­no­va­tion to all Vik­ing prod­ucts,” Vik­ing Pres­i­dent Kevin Brown told The Green­wood Com­mon­wealth in a state­ment. “We are con­fi­dent our prod­uct qual­ity is the best it’s ever been.”

A Mid­dleby spokes­woman couldn’t im­me­di­ately be reached for fur­ther com­ment.

As part of the set­tle­ment, Vik­ing also agreed to do more to en­sure it fol­lows fed­eral prod­uct safety law.

The com­mis­sion wrote that the ovens could get very hot, dam­ag­ing ar­eas sur­round­ing the range.

“Sev­eral con­sumers called 911 for as­sis­tance when they dis­cov­ered that the ranges had spon­ta­neously turned on and could not be turned off or dis­con­nected,” the com­mis­sion wrote in the set­tle­ment signed by Mid­dleby .

Mid­dleby, which paid $380 mil­lion for Vik­ing, sued the com­pany’s former own­ers in 2015, say­ing the sell­ers hid the prob­lem and didn’t set aside enough to cover war­ranty costs.

In the suit , Mid­dleby al­leged it spent at least $30 mil­lion on war­ranty costs and deal­ings with the Con­sumer Prod­uct Safety Com­mis­sion, plus “tens of mil­lions” more on Vik­ing to “re­build its brand im­age and rep­u­ta­tion.”

Mid­dleby said Vik­ing knew as early as 2011 that liq­uid could pool in­side the con­trol pan­els of ranges and cause the oven or grid­dle to “come on un­ex­pect­edly while the con­trol knobs were in the off po­si­tion.”

The suit said Vik­ing’s man­age­ment cre­ated spe­cial rules for cus­tomer safety rep­re­sen­ta­tives to han­dle the prob­lem, and said Vik­ing en­gi­neers re­pro­duced the prob­lem at head­quar­ters, “con­firm­ing that there was a se­ri­ous de­sign de­fect with the ranges.”

The former own­ers deny claims of wrong­do­ing. The law­suit is cur­rently sched­uled for trial in April 2018, ac­cord­ing to Delaware court records.

Last year, Mid­dleby Chair­man and CEO Se­lim Bas­soul told in­vestors that the re­call was still de­press­ing range sales.

“The re­call, it was like a cold shower on ev­ery­body,” he said on a March 2016 con­fer­ence call.

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