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Viking owner agrees to pay $4.65 million civil penalty over faulty stoves

By JACK WEATHERLY

Viking Range LLC and Middleby Corp. have agreed to pay a $4.65 million civil penalty in connection with faulty gas cook stoves made by Viking between 2008 and 2014.  Elgin, Ill.-based Middleby bought  Greenwood-based Viking Range Corp. in 2013 for $380 million.

In that period, the manufacturer received 170 reports of stoves starting on their own and could not be turned off by using the controls. Fifty-two thousand stoves were produced during that period, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in a release on Thursday.

In another matter, Viking Range Corp. agreed in 2011 with the CPSC to pay a $450,000 penalty for failing to immediately report defects in its refrigerators.

The latest agreement, released on Thursday, states that it “does not constitute an admission by Viking, or a determination by the Commission, that Viking violated the CPSA’s reporting requirements.” The agreement was reached to “avoid the cost, distraction, delay, uncertainty, and inconvenience of protracted litigation or other proceedings.”

Two consumers “who were unable to turn off one of the ranges [by] using the controls were then burned while attempting to disconnect the power source. Viking also received five reports that the Ranges had spontaneously turned on and caused property damage to the surrounding areas, such as the backsplash.”

“After receiving a number of reports related to ranges, Viking collected and tested ranges, and developed a repair for the ranges. Viking also issued numerous engineering change orders and technical bulletins identifying the defect and providing instructions on how to conduct the repair.”

The manufacturer discovered that the ranges could self-start “if a significant amount of liquid from boil-overs, spills or cleaning … pooled near the ranges’ electronic thermostats.”

In May 2015, Viking voluntarily announced a recall of all models of the ranges that contained the design defect, the agreement states.

Viking President Kevin Brown was quoted as telling the Greenwood Commonwealth last week in a prepared statement that “since the Middleby acquisition of Viking, the top priority has been on making the appliances top quality and bringing the latest innovation to all Viking products. We are confident our product quality is the best it’s ever been.”

Middleby sued Viking founder Fred Carl Jr. and other officers in 2015 in the Superior Court of Delaware in New Castle County.

The settlement reached last week with CPSC , which goes to the U.S. Treasury, pales in comparison with what Middleby and the succeeding Viking Range LLC are seeking — $100 million — for alleged fraud and breach of contract.

That suit is scheduled for trial in April 2018, according to the Associated Press.

Also included in the suit is W.R. Stephens Jr., a major investor in the company and a member of the Stephens family financial empire based in Little Rock, Ark. Trusts for other members of the family are also defendants.

Middleby bought the company in January 2013, when the employment level stood at about 700, down from about 1,200 during the housing boom.

Soon after the acquisition, the new owners cut the work force to about 560, and Carl, who had agreed to stay on board, quit.

By June of 2013, employment dropped to about 400.

Yet the company reported for the Mississippi Business Journal Book of Lists that the work force had rebounded to approximately 600 as of Dec. 31, 2016.

About Jack Weatherly

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