Martha Stewart Tabletops
Trina Harris' visiting family was sitting at this table when it exploded in Yakima, Wash.
Stephanie Green's "Lazy Susan" portion of her table exploded after less than two years of ownership in Van Nuys, Calif.
Karen Dozier's local Kmart in Bakersfield, Calif., told her that it was probably vandalism that caused her table to shatter while she vacationed in Cancun, Mexico.
The sound of shattering glass is one of the most piercing, frightening and recognizable sounds on Earth. For owners of Martha Stewart outdoor patio tables from Kmart, that sound is pretty common.
ConsumerAffairs.com has received hundreds of complaints about the glass tops of these tables spontaneously shattering, launching shards as far as 12 feet from the table. Almost every day at least one person files a new complaint and the complaints are strikingly similar:
"I was sitting at my computer when I heard this tremendous crash," said David Potts of Marietta, Ga. "I went outside to see what it was and it looked like my patio was covered in ice. It was the glass from the table top.
"I got a couple of slivers of glass in my fingers while I was cleaning it and here I am a year later and I can still feel pain in the tips of my fingers," Potts said.
Federal and state agencies and the various manufacturers and retailers involved either know about the problem and refuse to discuss it, or deny knowing about it.
Almost all of these spontaneous explosions of glass take place in the summer. Within the summer months however, there is no telling when or if your Martha Stewart table is the next to blow. Sometimes the table shatters two weeks after it is purchased. Sometimes it takes two years.
Since it appears to be completely spontaneous, luckily, most people do not happen to be sitting at the table when it shatters. However, occasionally someone is unlucky enough to be nearby, and for those consumers, it's exponentially frightening:
"We had family visiting and we were just sitting there when it happened," said Trina Harris of Yakima, Wash. "I couldn't believe it just exploded right before our eyes!" Luckily, members of the Harris family only suffered minor scrapes and cuts.
Bob of Manchester, Conn. was putting his table away for the season when the glass top shattered in his hands. Fortunately he, too, only suffered minor cuts.
Many consumers complain that since the glass goes flying so far and is in such small shards, people are still stepping on and carrying pieces of glass in their feet years after the initial explosion.
When ConsumerAffairs.com contacted glass experts, they were baffled.
"I have no idea what would cause that," said Ken Toney from Custom Glass Corporation in Kittanning, Pa.
Toney said the glass for these tables is tempered which means it is essentially baked a second time which not only makes it harder, but makes it somewhat safer if it does shatter.
Instead of breaking into large, dangerous shards, tempered glass breaks down into smaller pieces, that although sharp, probably will not cause as much physical damage.
Toney later hypothesized that maybe the molecular components of the glass are causing it to shatter.
"Other countries are notorious for having lower glassmaking standards. If the glass is made overseas, there could be something wrong with the molecular structure of the glass."
In fact, the glass is made overseas. Actually, the whole table and all the parts are made in various countries in Asia. The Martha Stewart tables are designed by JRA Furniture in Cerritos, Calif. The JRA website proudly boasts that their furniture is made in "factories throughout Asia."
Although glass experts were rather baffled by the circumstances surrounding these JRA tables, ConsumerAffairs.com did find one possible explanation that would explain why, for the most part the tempered glass only shatters in the summer.
According to GlassResource.com, tempered glass contains more than 50 chemicals. If there are too many nickel-rich contaminants such as steel, even at microscopic levels, in the glass, they can combine with sulfur to create nickel sulfide inclusions.
"When glass is heat-treated, the nickel sulfide inclusions are modified into a form that grows or transforms with time and temperature," according to the website. "Once glass is installed and the nickel sulfide inclusions are solar heated, small cracks may develop from the inclusion. If these cracks penetrate the tension layer of fully tempered glass, the resulting release of energy will cause the glass to spontaneously break."
Not "If" But "When"
This supports Tony's hypothesis that the cause could lie in the molecular structure of the glass. If this is correct, it's not a matter of if the glass will explode, but when.
Unfortunately, although that hypothesis makes sense, the companies involved would not speculate. Kmart, Martha Stewart's company, OmniMedia, and JRA Furniture all refused to comment.
JRA Furniture refused to comment because there is a pending class action lawsuit over these tables. Attorney Richard Doherty of Horwitz, Horwitz and Associates in Chicago, is lead counsel in the suit.
Doherty originally filed the class action against Kmart and OmniMedia on July 27, 2005. However, he recently filed an amended complaint to include JRA, which he said will delay a final verdict until "late next year barring any further setbacks."
Doherty said he is performing tests to find out for certain why the glass is spontaneously shattering. Doherty said regardless of the results of the tests, "If it's manufactured and designed properly, it shouldn't spontaneously shatter and explode. ... No one would buy it if I said, 'By the way, these might blow up.'"
Doherty believes the defendants know these tables are dangerous, but continue to sell them to unknowing customers.
It appears from consumer complaints that Kmart has been selling these patio tables as far back as the summer of 2000 and possibly longer. ConsumerAffairs.com did not log its first complaint about the exploding glass until September 2003, but some of the complaints are about tabletops that blew up a year or two earlier.
JRA's tables are also sold at The Home Depot, Safeway, Target and Sam's Club. It is unclear how long JRA has been supplying tables to Safeway, Target and Sam's Club, since they refuse to talk.
However, Home Depot spokeswoman Connie Bryant said Home Depot began selling JRA tables in January 2004 under the trade name Hampton Bay.
Sure enough, on Jan. 16, 2006, ConsumerAffairs.com received a similar complaint about the Hampton Bay patio table.
"I have a Hampton Bay patio set that I purchased this summer," wrote Scott of Nottingham, Pa. "The glass table top shattered into thousands of little pieces. I am not sure why this happened. I just heard a loud sound of glass hitting the concrete. This should have not happened even if it is left outside. This table sets under a covered porch."
Not Just the Glass
Almost every story of spontaneous glass breakage is coupled with complaints about the overall terrible longevity of the patio furniture.
"I purchased the Victoria outdoor sofa, table and two rocking chairs a few years ago along with a bar table, four chairs and umbrella from the Martha Stewart outdoor collection," wrote Mikki of Aurora, Colorado.
"After the first year, we saw the horrific problems with all of the furniture. The bar table glass top completely shattered for no reason. The fabric on the bar stools is discolored and ripped. The supposed "weather resistant" coating on the sofa set was peeling and chipping off and the cushions faded and ripped."
What To Do?
Most consumers are at a loss when it comes to trying to find a way to replace the glass and tattered furniture. The dilapidation usually occurs soon after the one year warranty expires and as far as replacing the glass, Kmart and OmniMedia seem to be telling consumers either, 'tough luck' or, 'ask JRA for a replacement piece.'
Of course, a replacement piece from JRA will run the risk of exploding again, which has happened already to a few consumers.
Salespeople at Swift Glass in Elmira, N.Y. suggested buying a whole new table, somewhere else of course, because making a custom piece of tempered glass would probably cost more than $225.
Doherty said customers whose tables shatter should:
• File a complaint with ConsumerAffairs.com;
• Save at least some of the glass for proof; and
• Contact Kmart and JRA to make sure they know these tables are unsafe.
ConsumerAffairs.com president James R. Hood said consumers should be aware of the dangers of glass-top tables and avoid them, especially if they have small children in their family.
"Talk to any E.R. physician and they will tell you of the hours they've spent plucking bits of glass out of infants' faces, hands and, worst of all, eyes," Hood said. "Glass is just too dangerous."
Hood said consumers with glass-top patio table and coffee tables should find a local store that will make a plastic top that they can use as a replacement. It's cheap, durable and safe, he said.
Most of all, customers need to be patient for the result of the class action lawsuit which Doherty believes will cost the defendants millions of dollars due to the massive numbers of Martha Stewart patio tables sold. It typically takes years for such suits to move through the courts.
ConsumerAffairs.com called many state attorneys general who had received few if any consumer complaints about the tables and seemed generally unaware of the problem.
Nor was the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission quick to warn consumers of hte danger.
The CPSC has issued no recalls or warnings and press spokesman Scott Wolfson would say only, "We are aware of reports regarding this product." He would not say if a recall might occur. His only suggestion for consumers was to contact the CPSC with their complaints.
Stephanie Green of Van Nuys, Calif. purchased Martha Stewart table with a "Lazy Suzan" glass top that exploded after less than two years of ownership.
"My ass Martha Stewart and K-Mart didn't know anything about it," Green wrote in an e-mail. "How dare they willfully choose to continue to steal and endanger people in the name of greed. She (Stewart) should have gone to jail for more than just insider trading."