photoMary of Ellijay, Ga., thought it was a fluke when her Polaroid flat-screen TV caught fire on May 7, but a federal class action lawsuit claims that the sets have a known defect that Polaroid has failed to fix and that the company has failed to warn consumers that their TVs are a fire hazard.

The suit claims that Polaroid knew as early as 2006 that its LCD TVs fail, smoke and catch fire, but actively concealed the defects. failed to warn customers before or after the sale, failed to recall the sets and failed to amend the warranties or reimburse customers for the cost of repairing or replacing the TVs.

In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Karen Hudson of Texas County, Mo., says she bought a 40-inch Polaroid LCD TV in June 2007. Within four months, the picture went dark and Hudson was told it would cost her $300 to have it fixed.

Upon further investigation, Hudson found consumers complaining that their Polaroid sets had not only failed to work but had caught fire.

The suit cites more than 30 complaints published by (out of a total of nearly 600) from consumers whose TVs stopped working, worked intermittently or caught fire.

Life span

While industry buying guides rate LCD TVs to have a life span of 100,000 hours – or about eight hours of daily viewing for 20 years – thousands of consumers are instead finding their Polaroid TVs to fail or burst into flames much earlier than that. .

While most consumers assume that flat-screen TVs are simpler and use less electricity than the much larger cathode ray tube sets they replace, the opposite is actually true. As Hudson's suit notes, LCD televisions require much more electricity and operate at much higher temperatures, thereby subjecting the circuit boards and electrical components to higher temperatures.

She charges that the Polaroid TVs have a defective design that subjects electronic components known as capacitors to excessive heat and excessive voltage, causing the capacitors to fail.

The company can't claim ignorance of the problem, Hudson charges, saying customers have been complaining about Polaroid TVs “for years.”

The earliest complaint published by came from Jill of South Euclid, Ohio, on June 5, 2006.

“Bought undercabinet tv from Radio Shack and it went out twice. Polaroid just today told me there is a defect with the product,” she said. “I was told to send them $110 for a new unit. I told [Polaroid] that is not my fault that the unit was defective and that I should not have to pay an additional $110 for an up-to-date unit.”

UL warning

The company not only failed to acknowledge the defect but falsely claimed its LCD TVs were certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the suit alleges, causing UL to issue a warning in October 2010 that certain Polaroid models carried “an unauthorized UL Listing Mark.”

“The television has not been evaluated by UL to the appropriate standards for safety for the United States and Canada and is not authorized to bear the UL Mark,” the UL bulletin said.

The suit charges that Polaroid's actions violate various state consumer laws and are a breach of the express and implied warranty. It asks for an injunction, legal fees and actual and consequential damages. The action was filed by Garrett D. Blanchfield Jr., a St. Paul, Minn., attorney.

Why no recall?

Polaroid may also have some explaining to do if in fact it has failed to notify the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about the problem.  Federal law requires manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retailers to report safety defects which "could  create a substantial risk of injury to the public or presents an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death" within 24 hours of the time they learn of the defect.

And how does a manufacturer learn of a defect? 

The CPSC has stated that “this information may be in the form of quality control data, product returns, warranty information, customer complaints, lawsuits, or any other information suggesting a product safety problem. Companies should have a system in place to make sure this kind of information is captured and channeled to responsible persons within the company so they may evaluate it and report if appropriate.” 

The agency routinely levies stiff fines against companies that fail to report defects.  In 2001, it fined Cosco/Safety 1st $1.75 million for failing to report safety defects in children's products.  In 2009, it fined Fisher-Price $2.3 million for violating the federal lead paint ban and in 2008, it fined Reebok $1 million for failing to report high lead levels in its products.