Over the past year, lawyers in our office have seen an incredible influx of cases involving defective pressure cookers. As most will know, pressure cookers are not new products and have been on the market for decades. For as long as pressure cookers have been on the market, there have been those that malfunction, causing injuries. However, the failure rate of certain models on the market today are alarmingly high.
To understand why pressure cookers cause injuries, it is important to understand the intended use and function. Pressure cookers are sealed cooking pots that use steam to build pressure inside the vessel. Food and liquid are placed in the sealed pot and heated until steam pressure builds. The steam pressure tenderizes the food and cooks quicker than conventional methods. Pressure cookers are equipped with pressure release valves that release steam when the pressure within the vessel reaches a certain level. Problems arise when the pressure release valve fails and the vessel over pressurizes. As is the case with any over-pressurized vessel, the vessel fails at the weakest point. Often this results in the lid of the pressure cooker exploding upward, spewing hot steam, liquid and food contents in a bomb-like manner. The liquid can cause horrific second- and third-degree burns to anyone near the cooker.
For years, the traditional pressure cooker resembled any other kitchen pot that a person would place on the stove. The only difference was a locking lid and pressure relief valve. So long as the pressure relief valve was functioning properly, the pressure cooker functioned safely. Today, many companies manufacture electric pressure cookers. These cookers more closely resemble a “Crock-pot” or slow cooker. The function and utility of these electric cookers are the same as the stovetop variety. However, the electric variety is failing at an alarming rate. Since 2012, more than 30 incidents of pressure cooker failures have been reported to saferproducts.gov. Based on the number of cases that have been reported to our office alone, there can be no doubt that the 30 reported incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.
The danger with pressure cookers stems from the very characteristic that gives them utility, and that is pressure. If the pressure is released slowly, the hazard is mitigated. But, the failure to release pressure can lead to over-pressurization, which causes the explosion of steam and liquids. The most common defects are inadequate pot lid seals and gaskets, along with inadequate venting of steam. All too often the pressure release valve clogs or sticks causing an over pressurization. Without a slow release of steam, the pressure builds until an inevitable blow out.
Many companies are recalling electric pressure cookers due to defects. In 2015, Breville recalled 35,600 “Fast Slow Cookers” due to the unexpected release of built-up pressure. Similarly, pressure cookers sold by Welbilt Electronic on QVC were recalled in 2006 due to the cookers opening prematurely, expelling hot liquids. Despite these recalls, many other manufacturers continue to sell defective pressure cookers.
One of the most popular pressure cookers on the market is the “Power Pressure Cooker XL.” This product is advertised and sold on TV, but is also sold at many large nationwide department stores. Not only is the Power Pressure Cooker XL one of the most popular electric pressure cookers, it appears it may be the most dangerous. Despite countless accidents involving this product, Tristar Products Inc., the manufacturer of the Power Pressure Cooker XL, continues to sell the product. Several lawsuits have been filed against Tristar related to the faulty pressure relief valves. It is time that Tristar takes these defective cookers off the market and removes them from department store shelves and recalls those already sold. Until this action occurs, I have no doubt that these accidents will continue to rise.
Sources: CPSC, Breville and saferproducts.gov