Exploding Toilets Prompt $5 Million Lawsuit
Explosive diarrhea is the least of worries for consumers who have a certain type of water conservation device installed in their toilet. Models of the Flushmate III Pressure-Assist Flushing System manufactured between 1997 and 2008 are the subject of a recall by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission after the devices themselves were found to be an explosion risk.
According to the CPSC, 304 of the Flushmate units have burst during use, resulting in 14 laceration and impact injuries. Some 2,330,600 of the devices in the United States — found in American Standard, Kohler and other brand toilets — as well as an additional 9,400 in Canada are subject to the recall.
While well meaning, the recall is insufficient, according to an attorney in California who has filed a federal class action suit for $5 million against Flushmate, which is owned by Sloan Valve Co. “It doesn’t solve the problem,” says the lawyer, David M. Birka-White. “It doesn’t fix it. It forces people to pay for the repair themselves, and there’s an inadequate notice program.”
The recall doesn’t actually involve mailing the toilets back to the manufacturer. Instead, the company sends a repair kit to owners of the volatile device. The problem is, while the repair might mitigate explosion damage, it doesn’t actually address internal leakage that causes the danger, says Birka-White.
“It’s not designed to fix the underlying problem that causes the blowup in the first place,” he says. “You can’t fix the problem, other than trying to control collateral damage, meaning the explosions. It’s a magnanimous gesture, and one that may be helpful to save injury, but it doesn’t solve the problem.”
Flying Toilet Shrapnel
The worst known injury from the devices is featured on the CPSC website with a photo of a man’s lacerated back, stitched back together. “I required dozens of stitches for an extremely deep wound because of the exploding porcelain,” the victim said. “Because I am a bigger person, I was able to absorb the brunt of the force. Again, had this happened to someone elderly or a child, the outcome could have been catastrophic.”
According to the lawsuit, the Flushmate devices work by using water in the toilet tank to compress air, then forcing the air into the bowl when flushed. “The vessels used in the Flushmate System are defective and prone to leaks and weld separation,” the suit states. “The leaks cause the Flushmate System to burst at or near the vessel weld seam releasing stored pressure. The pressure then lifts the toilet lid and shatters the tank, posing impact or laceration hazards to consumers, as well as property damage.”
The recall is further inadequate, according to the attorney, because the burden is on consumers to perform the repair themselves after the company sends the kit. “Many people can’t install these repair kits themselves,” says Birka-White. “They don’t have the tools, or are maybe older or physically incapable of doing it. What do you do in that case? People have to call a plumber.”
Paying a plumber could mean spending as much to get the repair kit installed as it would cost to buy a brand new toilet. “You just bought yourself a new toilet to fix the problem, to keep yourself from being the victim of flying toilet shrapnel,” Birka-White says.
The suit also alleges that Flushmate knew of the explosion danger since 2000 but failed to disclose the potential risks. Birka-White says he class action has already attracted a “substantial” number of plaintiffs from across the country who have experienced leaking, explosions, flooding and property damage from the Flushmate devices.
“Even if it’s not leaking, what are you supposed to think of a toilet that has a propensity to blow up?” says Birka-White. “How comfortable can you be with a toilet like that in your home?”