Hints That you Might Have a Subrogation Case

Anytime that the failure of a product causes personal injury or property damage, there is a possibility that an insurance carrier could recoup its expenditures from the manufacturer, installer or servicer.  However, not all product failures result in grounds for subrogation claims.  Sometimes products “wear out” and when they do, it can be due to the expiration of the useful life of the product.  Case in point: water heaters.  Depending on who you talk to, the useful life of a residential water heater can be anywhere between five and ten years.  Then there are those more expensive models that can last between 10 and 15 years.  The life of a product has to be taken into consideration, usually during the investigation phase, so as to make sure that the subrogation case will not be summarily dismissed if the case goes to court.  In the case of fires, both structural and vehicular, where the cause was electrical or mechanical malfunction; the key here is whether the equipment was recently installed or serviced by an outside service company or individual.  In the case of existing equipment, the question of maintenance will arise and become a key piece of information.  If the equipment has been allowed to go unmaintained, then it might be possible for a manufacturer or installer to argue that the operating condition of the equipment was beyond their control and they cannot be held liable.   The same thing applies to situations involving water damage.  Water damage can occur from leaking refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and any other piece of equipment that uses water in the process. 

There are also situations that arise where subrogation is not so obvious.  Assuming that an employer is operating a safe workplace, on the job injuries can be caused by the operation of equipment that is not properly guarded.  OSHA regulations are in effect that prohibit the operation of rotating or moving equipment without proper guarding.  Such equipment includes, conveyors, wire drawing machines, drill presses, milling machines, and stamping machines.  In many instances, rotating equipment is operated with the use of pulleys or flywheels.  These components have to be matched to the rotational speed of the machine.  If the machine is operated at a speed greater than the rated speed of the flywheel, then it is possible for the flywheel to fail.  If the flywheel fails under normal loading and within its expected life, then subrogation is possible.  However, if someone in the plant has increased the rotational speed of operation beyond load limits, then subrogation is most likely not possible.  It should be noted that many smaller pulleys are adjustable and as a consequence, rotational speed can be increased to a dangerous level.  In addition failures from hydraulic hoses can occur where the operator is sprayed with hot oil.  If the hose is routinely replaced as a maintenance item but, fails during its service lifetime, then it can be argued that the hose was defective and likely warrants a subrogation claim against the manufacturer.  Similarly, pressure vessels can EXPLODE and cause property damage and serious injury.  Vessels containing air, water, oil, or any other fluid under PRESSURE must be certified for the service.  If the vessel failed during its expected life, was not over-pressurized, maintained by minimizing corrosion, and inspected on a regular basis; then, subrogation against the manufacturer is a possibility.  However, if the vessel was manufactured in house, by the insured, then any injured employees might have a design defect claim against the employer.               

Hyundai and Kia Vehicles Recalled for Fire Hazard

Hyundai Motor Company has recalled approximately 600,000 vehicles due to a brake fluid leak that could result in an engine fire.  The recall applies to 2013-2015 Hyundai Santa Fe SUVs, 2013-2015 Kia Optima sedans, and 2014-2015 Kia Sorento SUVs.  The brake fluid leak has been located and attributed to the anti-lock brakes hydraulic control unit.  As brake fluid is lost, drivers might notice a decrease in braking capacity.  Hyundai recommends that the vehicle be kept parked, outside of garages and away from other vehicles and structures, if possible.  This is because fires can occur even if the vehicle is not in operation.  For additional information, owners can visit Hyundai’s website at www.hyundaiusa.com, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on “Safety Recalls” under the Owners column on the right side of the page.  Owners will also need their vehicle identification number to determine if their vehicle is included in this recall.  Owners can also contact Hyundai by calling 1-800-633-5151.  Owner notification is expected to begin on October 15, 2020.  Dealers will replace the hydraulic control unit free of charge.

Possible ProFlo Toilet Tank Defect

It has been brought to our attention that toilet tanks made under the ProFlo brand have been cracking after installation and causing significant water damage.  We were made aware of the problem when a plumbing company located in Florida noticed our article on Vortens toilet tanks and subsequently contacted us and advised us of a similar problem with ProFlo tanks.  The company that notified us also provided photographs of three separate tank failures which are shown below.  After researching ProFlo, it was learned that Ferguson Enterprises owns and distributes the brand in the United States.  Ferguson Enterprises is also based in Newport News, Virginia.  The intent of this notice is to determine if there is widespread experience with tank failures and request that those experiencing the failures comment on their situations so as to make the defect common knowledge and possibly result in a recall.     

Cracked ProFlo toilet tank
Second instance encountered where the toilet tank cracked
Third cracked tank

Recalls from Toyota, Ford and Subaru

Toyota –

Toyota has announced that it is recalling approximately 183,000 vehicles due to a problem with a wiring harness.  The vehicles involved are 2018 – 2020 Toyota Tundra pick up trucks.  The wiring harnesses in these vehicles were assembled incorrectly and as a result, the front turn signal bulbs do not illuminate as brightly as they should.  Owners should take their vehicles to their dealer and the dealer will modify the wiring harness free of charge.  For additional information, owners contact Toyota by calling 1-888-270-9371.  Owners can also visit the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov)  and enter their vehicle identification number for details on this recall.  Toyota will begin notifying owners by mid to late September.   

Ford –

Ford has recalled 488,600 model year 2015 – 2018 Ford Edge and 2016 – 2018 Lincoln MKX SUVs due a brake problem.  Ford has discovered that the front brake jounce hoses could rupture causing a loss of brake fluid and braking capacity.  If the brake fluid is depleted below a certain level, the brake fluid warning light will illuminate.  Because of the low fluid level, brake pedal travel will increase which will cause a reduction in the deceleration rate.  A reduction in the deceleration rate will increase the risk of a crash.  Owners should take their vehicles to their dealer where the dealer will replace the hoses free of charge.  For additional information, owners can contact Ford by calling 1-866-436-7332.  Owners can also visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website (www.nhtsa.gov) and enter their vehicle identification number to see the recall details.  Ford has not yet announced an owner notification schedule.    

Ford is also recalling 2014 – 2017 model year F 150 pick up trucks as a result of a faulty master cylinder.  292,000 vehicles are involved in this recall.  The master cylinder in these vehicles can leak brake fluid into the brake booster.  Fluid inside the booster can change the brake pedal travel, pedal effort, and reduce braking function.  All of these effects will result in increasing the distance to stop the vehicle and increasing the risk of a crash.  Vehicle owners should return their vehicles to their dealer for a free repair.  The dealers will replace the master cylinder, inspect the booster, and replace as necessary.  For additional information, owners can contact Ford by calling 1-866-436-7332.  Owners can also visit NHTSA’s website (www.nhtsa.gov) and enter their vehicle identification number to see the recall details.  Ford began notifying owners on June 29 of this year.

Subaru –

Subaru is recalling 188,200 model year 2019 Subaru Ascent SUVs, Impreza sedans and hatchbacks, Legacy sedans, and Outback wagons.  These vehicles are equipped with a faulty low pressure fuel pump.  The pump was manufactured with an impeller that can crack and render the pump inoperative, increasing the risk of a crash.  Owners should return their vehicles to their dealer for a free replacement.  For additional information, owners can contact Subaru by calling 1-844-373-6614.  Owners can also visit NHTSA’s website at www.nhtsa.gov, enter their vehicle identification number and see the details of the recall.  Subaru began notifying owners on June 5.     

Riding Lawn Mower Fire

We’re still in the middle of summer and right in the middle of lawn mowing season.  Everyone knows that lawn mowing is a necessary chore that has to be done.  Along with mowing the lawn comes keeping the lawn mower in good condition.  It’s very easy to neglect the mower once the mowing is done and not give a second thought to maintaining your mower.  So, what else is there besides changing the oil and replacing the blade every couple of years?  The answer is keeping the mower clean.  The grass clippings that accumulate on just about every surface of a mower can dry and become combustible.  But, nobody thinks about the possibility of a fire occurring after they’ve just finished cutting their grass.  The pictures below show what can happen to a riding lawn mower when it is not properly cleaned after each use.  This particular machine was stored in a warehouse when it ignited.  Luckily, the fire set off the sprinkler system and extinguished the fire before any real damage occurred.    

Riding mower engine fire caused by lack of maintenance
Dry/combustible grass debris observed on deck of riding mower

We know that the machine was not cleaned prior to storing because a similar machine was stored beside the one that ignited and also had dry grass clippings and on it.  The second mower is shown below. Fires are not limited to riding mowers. They can also occur in engine driven push mowers and large commercial machines. Keeping your mower clean is very simple to do. You can use a brush or an air blower. If your machine is equipped with a hose connection, you can wash away the debris. It really doesn’t matter what you use as long as you keep your mower clean.

Dry/combustible grass debris observed on deck of second mower

Not the Way to Mount Running Boards to your Truck!

Running Boards are very popular and offer to convenient way to enter and leave a truck for those who have a hard time getting in and out.  Running boards come in various styles and are usually equipped with brackets that are intended to be bolted to the truck underbody.  However, when the underbody is corroded or the condition of the metal that will hold the running board is questionable, then caution should be exercised in deciding whether and how to mount the boards.  When bolts can’t be used, welding the bracket to the underbody can be an alternative.  In doing so, care must be taken not to set the vehicle on fire!  Carpeting is usually present at the edge of the floorboard adjacent to the doors.  When welding the brackets, the heat from the weld is conducted through the metal to the carpet (and wiring if present) creating a perfect condition for a vehicle fire.  The photographs shown below illustrate how a fire originated in a 1997 Ford F 250 when one of the passenger side running board brackets was welded to the underbody.  Precautions must be taken before welding to prevent damage to the vehicle.  If bolts cannot be used because of questionable metal strength, then welding is probably not a good idea either.    

Fire origin at floorboard and damage to passenger door
View of underbody beneath area of fire origin, note bracket weld location

Combustible Hoverboards Still Out There

Back in 2016, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled thousands of hoverboards due to a problem with lithium ion batteries.  The batteries would short circuit and cause the hoverboards to ignite.  Because most of the brands used cheap materials and were made overseas, the market pretty much disappeared overnight.  However, hoverboards that have some age on them are still in use.  Recently, one was encountered in the investigation of an apartment fire.  The condition of the hoverboard is shown below.  Spontaneous ignition of the hoverboard was determined to have been the cause of the fire.  More specifically, the lithium ion batteries  appeared to have self-short-circuited resulting in excessive heat buildup (thermal runaway) that ultimately led to the ignition of the product.  If you have an older product, it is recommended that you replace the batteries with batteries or a battery pack certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).  Make sure that the batteries or battery pack has been tested according to UL standard 1642 or 2054.  The product should carry a label showing what standard has been met.   For new products made this year, 2020, the product should have been tested according to UL standard 2272.  Look for a label on the product indicating that the product has been certified accordingly.       

Ford Recalls Vehicles for Latch and Brake Issues

The Ford Motor Company has issued a recall for approximately 2.1 million vehicles with a door latch issue.  The latch issue was previously addressed under recall numbers 15S16 and 16S30.  While some of the door latches might have been replaced under one of the two recalls, not all of the latches were replaced or replaced correctly.  As a result, some of the latch pawl spring tabs are still cracking or failing under high thermal loads (combination of air temperature and solar radiation). Owners will be given the opportunity to have a dealer inspect the latch or verify the latch code themselves and validate the repair online.  The following vehicles are affected:

2011 – 2014 Ford Fiesta built at Cuautitlan plant between Jan 26, 2010 and Oct 31, 2013

2012 – 2015 Ford Focus built at Michigan plant between Oct 4, 2010 and Jan 31, 2015

2013 – 2014 Ford Fusion built at Hermosillo plant between May 11, 2012 and Oct 31, 2013

2013 – 2014 Ford Lincoln MKZ built at Hermosillo plant, between July 19, 2012 and Oct 31, 2013

2013 – 2015 Ford Escape built at Louisville plant between Dec 23, 2011 and Jan 31, 2015

2013 – 2015 Ford C-Max built at Michigan plant between Feb 2, 2012 and Jan 31, 2015

2014 Ford Fusion built at the Flat Rock assembly plant between June 18, 2013 and Oct 31, 2013

2014 – 2016 Ford Transit Connect built at Valencia Plant between August 9, 2013 and Feb 1, 2016 

2015 Ford Mustang built at Flat Rock plant between Feb 14, 2014 and April 30, 2015

2015 Lincoln MKC built at Louisville plant between Nov 18, 2013 and Jan 31, 2015

For additional information, owners can contact Ford by calling 1-800-392-3673 or visit www.corporate.ford.com. Reference recall number 20S30.

Ford has also issued a recall for 2014 – 2017 Ford F 150 vehicles equipped with the 3.5 liter Ecoboost engine, due to a problem with the master cylinder.  The master cylinder will leak brake fluid through the front wheel circuit into the brake booster.  The driver can experience a change in the feel in braking as well as a loss of braking effort in the front wheels.  The rear wheel brakes are unaffected.  The loss of braking power increases the risk of a crash.  292,311 vehicles are affected in the United States.  The affected vehicles have been identified as follows:

2015 – 2017 Ford F 150 built at the Dearborn plant between Oct 1, 2014 and Aug 1, 2016

2014 – 2017 Ford F 150 built at the Kansas City plant between Sept 1, 2014 and Aug 1, 2016

Dealers will replace the master cylinder and if necessary, replace the brake booster.  For additional information, owners can contact Ford at the telephone number or website address given above and reference recall number 20S31.

Nissan Recalls Altimas for Second Time

Nissan USA has issued a recall for their 2013 – 2018 Altima sedans for a problem with the hood latch.  Corrosion has been found to attack the primary hood latch and when it fails, it can prevent the secondary hood latch from engaging.  Failure to engage the latch can result in the hood flying open while the vehicle is moving, obstructing the driver’s view and resulting in a crash.  Driver’s can determine if the hood is about to open by watching whether it is fluttering or making noise as the vehicle is moving.  This recall is an extension of the original recall which was applied to 2013 – 2015 year models.  The current recall has included 2016 – 2018 Altimas.  All together the recall affects approximately 1.8 million vehicles.  It should be noted that if a vehicle has been previously repaired, it will have to be repaired again.  Nissan expects to begin notifying owners on August 1st.  For additional information owners can contact Nissan by calling 1-800-647-7261.  Owners can also contact their dealer for recall assistance.

Hyundai Recalls Sonata and Santa FE Sport Vehicles for Fuel Leaks

Hyundai Motor America is recalling 2013-2014 Hyundai Sonata vehicles due to a fuel leak that can occur in a low pressure fuel hose.  The hose in question connects the low pressure fuel pump to the direct injection fuel pump.  As a result of engine heat, the hose can crack over time resulting in fuel leakage that can become a fire hazard.  The recall affects approximately 206,896 vehicles.  Dealers will inspect the hose and replace it as necessary.  If no damage or leakage is found, dealers will wrap the hose in heat protective tape.  Repairs will be performed at no cost to the owner.  For additional information, owners can contact Hyundai customer service by calling 1-855-371-9460 and referencing recall number 189.  The NHTSA campaign number for this recall is 20V121000.

Hyundai Motor America is also recalling 2011-2014 Hyundai Sonata as well as 2013-2014 Santa Fe Sport Vehicles.  These vehicles were previously repaired under recall numbers 15V-568 and 17V-226 and affect approximately 150,730 vehicles.  During the repairs to these vehicles, the high pressure fuel pipe that attaches to the outlet of the fuel pump could have been improperly installed.  That is, the pipe could have been damaged, misaligned, or improperly torqued, resulting in fuel leakage from the pipe.  This is an outstanding recall that was begun March 1, 2019.  For additional information, owners can contact Hyundai customer service by calling 1-855-371-9460 and referencing recall number 180.  The NHTSA campaign number for this recall is 18V934000.  

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