Sears settles oven suit

February 20, 2008 8:27:58 AM PST
Sears Holdings Corp. will install safety brackets on its stoves in millions of households or offer gift cards in settling an Illinois class-action lawsuit over the appliances' supposed propensity to topple.Under an agreement signed off on last month by a Madison County judge, Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears will offer to fix all brands of its freestanding or slide-in kitchen ranges in as many as 3.9 million homes by bolting them to a wall or floor.

The deal covers Sears ranges sold from mid-2000 through last Sept. 18, when a judge granted the settlement temporary approval. The deal resolving the lawsuit dating to July 2004 also requires Sears to install safety brackets in newly purchased ranges for the next three years.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs estimate the settlement could cost Sears more than $500 million. But Sears, in a statement Wednesday to The Associated Press, said only that "the parties dispute many aspects of the case, including the value of the settlement, which Sears estimates to be a small fraction of what plaintiffs counsel estimates."

The statement then directed the AP to the settlement's Web site, www.searsrangesettlement.com.

Consumer groups, which were not involved in the lawsuit, say more than 100 people have been killed or injured from scalding and burns caused by hot foods and liquids spilling from the stove top, or from being crushed by the weight of a stove that has tipped over.

Those groups insist Sears and other retailers who deliver a stove often fail to connect "anti-tip brackets" meant to prevent injuries by keeping the appliance stable if a sufficient amount of weight is placed on an open door or storage bin drawer.

Consumer groups pointed to the use by stove-makers of lighter-gauge steel since the 1980s to cut costs, making those appliances more prone to tip over when weight was applied to the oven door.

Consumers will have the option of having an anti-tip device installed for free, receiving $100 if they already had Sears or a third party install the device, or getting a $50 gift card to help pay for a new, regularly priced stove from Sears if they don't want the anti-tip device.

"The whole idea is to solve the problem," Stephen Tillery, a St. Louis lawyer involved in the lawsuit, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a story Wednesday.

Messages left Wednesday with Tillery by the AP were not immediately returned.

The lawyers will split $17 million in fees, according to the settlement.

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On the Net:

Sears, http://www.sears.com

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