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May 2, 2016

Man Beats Kmart in Court Over Fridge, But Should He Have Won?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:58 am

Kenmore refrigeratorAs reported in the Asbury Park Press, a 79-year old New Jersey man had a problem with a Kenmore refrigerator he had bought a year earlier. Around Christmas, the gentleman noticed that food in his freezer was getting mushy.

When he contacted Kmart, they told him that he was using the refrigerator improperly because he placed it in his unheated garage, contrary to the instructions in the owner’s manual.



Apparently, you are not supposed to put the refrigerator in a garage where the temperature can fall below 55 degrees. Kmart refused to give the man a refund because of his misuse of the product, but offered him a $75 gift card for the lost food in the freezer, and a 20% discount on a new refrigerator.

That was not satisfactory to the consumer, so he sued Kmart in small claims court for $535.59. The judge asked him a few questions like whether he was told of this limitation in the store before he bought the appliance. The consumer said no.

With that, the judge ruled in consumer’s favor. Incidentally, Kmart did not show up for the hearing. It is a general court rule that if the defendant does not appear for the trial, the plaintiff wins by default.

The question becomes, had Kmart shown up in court, would the consumer have still won?

Here’s MrConsumer’s take: If the consumer had asked for a refrigerator that could be used in a cold environment like a garage, and if Kmart directed him to this particular model, then Kmart would be responsible if in fact the refrigerator was not suited for that purpose. (This is the Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose.) If however the consumer never made known his intentions to use the refrigerator in a manner that most people do not, he was negligent by not following the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings… and should not have won.

A salesperson cannot be expected to read the consumer’s mind and recite all the do’s and don’ts listed in the product manual.

What do you think? Should this consumer have won his case? Add your opinion in the comments section.

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  1. No he should not have won however, Kmart should have showed up in court.

    Comment by Paul — May 2, 2016 @ 6:56 am
  2. Had K-Mart shown up, the decision could have turned on exactly where the notice was. If it was in the instruction book, then he might have lost the case unless the notice was buried in a several page manual. If it was in the manual, did he have a chance to read it prior to purchasing the unit?

    If the sticker was a stand alone note stuck on an obscure part of the unit and not easily seen, he could have won.

    Looking at the notice though, I would think it was probably in the instructions book and it clearly shows as a CAUTION.

    One thing this story does show is that many large companies won’t show up in small claims court because in many jurisdictions, only an attorney can represent a corporation and attorneys cost hundreds of dollars per hour; even then, if a designated representative can show up, the company may not want to fight, especially if the plaintiff has a reasonably good case.

    Comment by David G — May 2, 2016 @ 8:33 am
  3. Kmart would have never sent anyone to defect $500. It’s not worth their time.

    Edgar I agree with all you said. It all depends on how the sale happened and what was asked/said at the time of the transaction.

    As much as I want to side with Kmart in this case, I’m going to give the plaintiff the benefit of the doubt and assume he had asked about running the fridge in his garage. I know if I’m buying something for a specific use, I will make sure it was either made for that use or would otherwise expect to survive.

    Comment by Pierre K — May 2, 2016 @ 8:45 am
  4. I’ve had an extra refrigerator in my unheated garage at one time and never had an issue with it, but it never crossed my mind that a refrigerator would have a temperature range for use. It’s such a fine line, but I lean towards the consumer on this one.

    Comment by Frank — May 2, 2016 @ 8:47 am
  5. I agree with Paul. I guess it would not be worth paying a Lawyer the time and travel to win less than $600.00.

    Comment by Thomas — May 2, 2016 @ 8:52 am
  6. RE: “If however the consumer never made known his intentions to use the refrigerator in a manner that most people do not,”
    Its very common to have freezers in garages, I don’t see it much different to have a refrigerator. Our friends must have one, because they are always going to the garage to get beer.

    Comment by Iolaire McFadden — May 2, 2016 @ 9:03 am
  7. consumer is right. salesman should have disclosed can not put the refrigerator in the garage. it is his job to know his product.

    Comment by hugh obrien — May 2, 2016 @ 9:20 am
  8. I am on Kmart’s side in this case. Every item has a limited use range and consumers should be aware of that, especially if the limited use is specified in the manual or label.

    Even if the consumer wasn’t aware of the limitations at the time of purchase, I would think that there is some kind of return policy that would allow the consumer to exchange for a model that did fit what was desired.

    The lawyer Kmart would have hired for the civil suit probably cost more money than Kmart had to pay to the plaintiff. It wouldn’t have been worth it.

    Comment by wayne — May 2, 2016 @ 9:58 am
  9. I think KMart went above and beyond offering him money for his spoiled food and a discount on another unit.

    Comment by Lisa — May 2, 2016 @ 9:58 am
  10. How can anyone expect a fridge to operate in cold conditions? We want a garage fridge, but some quick research shows it is not to be. I didn’t rush out and buy a fridge without checking first. On the other hand, one can pretty much get away with anything if the other party fails to show. This man probably counted on that.

    Comment by Shawn — May 2, 2016 @ 10:36 am
  11. Just RTFM!

    Comment by Jon Randolph — May 2, 2016 @ 10:42 am
  12. The consumer should not have won. What kind of problems will he have collecting the judgment?

    Comment by Bill — May 2, 2016 @ 12:35 pm
  13. Here comes another warning label, just like the “Don’t use this hair dryer in the shower” type labels. You won’t be able to see the product because it will be covered on warning stickers.

    Many people put refrigerators in the garage. I live in southern California so that’s not much of an issue for me, but someone who lives farther north, getting below 55F is common during the winter, and for extended times.

    Comment by bobl — May 2, 2016 @ 12:37 pm
  14. I think we need more information here. We’re not told what the lowest temperature was in that particular garage. Since a refrigerator is designed to keep food at about 40F, if the garage temperature dropped to that level, the fridge thermostat would think that the fridge was at the proper temperature and the compressor would never cycle on. Consequently the freezer would eventually warm up to 40F also and all the food would thaw out. Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a ‘reasonable male’ to foresee this possibility when putting a fridge in the garage in which case I suppose the man had a case. On the other hand, if the temperature in the garage dropped to 30F, which an uninsulated garage could easily do in northern climes, then presumably the fridge temperature would drop to 30F and all the food in the fridge would freeze. Would this man have sued Kmart because his fridge didn’t keep his food above freezing in this case? Personally I think that the plaintiff should have read the manual and understood the limitations of the fridge but perhaps that is an unrealistic expectation these days.

    Comment by John — May 2, 2016 @ 1:25 pm
  15. What’s missing from this equation is that refrigerators USED TO work in unheated spaces pretty darned well. Something has changed about how they’re manufactured–less insulation, more energy-efficiency standards–I don’t know. A 70-year-old appliance repairman told me that this is a latter day problem. There IS an accessory kit available for some makes and models that will allow these new refrigerators and freezers to be used in a colder space, but the user doesn’t find this out until the appliance malfunctions. We had a c. 1960 Kelvinator fridge in our unheated garage for years and it worked just fine.

    Comment by SilentCal — May 2, 2016 @ 2:17 pm
  16. only by experience and research did I find out about the additional cost accessory kit used for colder climate conditions. I am surprised more vendors/sales people do not mention this option. I purchased a new refrigerator from a big box store in January 2016, I received a eight page owners manual / instruction book / installation and nothing mentioned operating environment conditions.

    Comment by tom gauvin — May 2, 2016 @ 2:54 pm
  17. You have to always consider all of the fact matter and all of the complexities before rendering a judgment but KMART has made it very easy to render a decision here because THEY FLOUTED THE AUTHORITY OF THE COURT BY NOT RESPONDING AND NOT SHOWING UP. That fact ALONE, regardless of whether the guy is “right” or not, means THAT KMART SHOULD PAY. If a corporations gets a summons, THEY MUST SHOW UP IN COURT. It is not “optional”. So, we need not consider all the minutia about temperatures, garages, and design changes. KMART ironically made the case as simple as can be by not showing up and the Judge knows that.

    Comment by Kevin Gainer — May 2, 2016 @ 9:03 pm
  18. How can an ordinary person know that refrigerators will not work in cold environments? If you do not know that in advance, you cannot ask for one that will work. Looking in the manual seems like a good idea on the surface, but hoe many shops will let you do that? It’s almost impossible to find someone to help you in K-Mart anyway. Again though, if you are not already aware of the problem, you will not know to look for it.

    Perhaps fridges should come with big stickers on the front not just giving the energy rating, but also a warning of the minimum external temperature before it will stop working. Having said that, how many of us know how cold our garage or even kitchen gets during the night in the coldest weather? Perhaps fridges need to be redisigned to work in cold rooms like they used to

    Comment by Greg — May 2, 2016 @ 11:37 pm
  19. I know many people who have kept refrigerators in garages in areas that regularly drop well below 55F (US Midwest), and have had no issues. In my experience this is a very common use. If a refrigerator is not suited to this, it should be disclosed in a manner that is apparent before purchase…meaning something more than just one of 50 caution statements buried in a manual that can only be read after purchase (and delivery).

    Comment by cmadler — May 3, 2016 @ 8:35 am
  20. No, he should not have won but it does not surprise me. People cannot take responsibility for their own stupid actions, and now it seems the courts are enabling them to keep on doing it. That is why they have pamphlets that come with a purchase; so you can read what you can do and what you cannot do. In this case, it’s called laziness.

    Comment by Tracy — May 3, 2016 @ 2:29 pm
  21. I have had refrigerators in the garage in several homes, some better insulated than others. I feel I am a reasonably informed consumer, and I research and read about products in depth before I buy. That being said, this is the first time I have heard about the temperature limitations for refrigerators. Perhaps mine were old enough that didn’t apply or maybe I just got lucky, but I’ve never had this problem with either a fridge or a freezer. I would never have posed the question, thus I would have been in the same situation as the consumer. Live and learn.

    Comment by Tbunni Ziebart — May 6, 2016 @ 11:30 am
  22. The consumer should not have won this one… I can see where this is leading, every time you make a purchase, you’ll be required to go through a screening process to assure the product is suitable before being allowed to purchase it:
    – Will you be using this product in an environment that exceeds 110 degrees or falls below 55 degrees Fahrenheit?
    – Will you be using this product in damp conditions?
    – Will this product be exposed to direct sunlight?
    – Will this product be placed in a situation in which adequate airflow will be impeded? (please attach photos or an illustration of the are this product will be used)
    – Will this item be plugged into an outlet providing proper voltage and amperage? (please attach electrician’s affidavit)
    – Are other appliances or electrical devices on the same circuit as this item? (please list all other electrical items on this circuit if not denoted in electrician’s affidavit above)
    – For items exceeding 80 pounds, please provide names of persons who will assist you in case you need to move this appliance in the future:_________________
    – etc.

    They reimbursed him for his losses, seems like he was made whole. The only question is this, if he would have gotten home and read the manual to discover this appliance was not suitable, would KMart have taken it back? My guess is yes.

    Comment by Jim G — May 9, 2016 @ 8:18 am
  23. I’ve had the same fridge in my garage for 31 years here on the east coast with widely ranging temperatures in all 4 seasons. Never a problem, everything frozen in the freezer and cold in the fridge. So what’s with this one that it didn’t work in a garage ? Perhaps that should have been posted in large letters on the appliance at the store. Many people around here have a second fridge in the garage, it’s not an unusual use for such an item. Who would want 2 in the average size kitchen ?

    Comment by Antony — May 16, 2016 @ 8:28 am
  24. A friend of mine was hauled into small claims court (and subsequently lost) because a customer bought a box of 8d nails, and the salesperson failed to ask him what he intended to do with the nails. Turns out he wanted to install siding on a garage, and the nails he purchased weren’t galvanized.

    Comment by Larry Reavis — May 18, 2016 @ 1:43 pm
  25. I am 58 years old, have had more than one garage fridge in unheated garages in the Northeast and never had this issue. I never even knew this was an issue and I’m pretty up on things so I don’t know why this man should have been expected to be aware of this and tell the salesperson they’re using it in an unheated garage. It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to make this information known to the consumer especially when it’s not common knowledge. Most fridges have energy rating cards on them and specifications in the store. This information should be located there. If it is, then it’s the customer’s fault for not reading it. If it’s not he shouldn’t be expected to somehow psychically know that there might be an issue.

    That said, I just found out on YouTube that some manufacturers actually sell accessory “heating kits” for their fridges in case customers want to run them in colder than normal environments. This will counteract the effect of the colder temperature on the compressor and trick it into coming on more often.

    I don’t happen to have a garage fridge right now but was considering getting one. I’m glad I came across this. I never had this issue before but I see that fridges today are different than the ones I used in my previous garages. Unfortunately a lot of people never “got the memo” on this. Thanks, Edgar!

    Comment by Ronnie — May 23, 2016 @ 11:45 pm

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