Product Warnings Won’t Protect You From Litigation: Pyrex Is Proof
Stories of Pyrex cookware exploding are a dime a dozen on the Internet. So much so that even websites dedicated to cooking have tutorials on how to avoid your Pyrex glassware shattering all over your counter top. Still, Corelle Brands, the parent company to Pyrex, has repeatedly denied liability when it comes to such incidents.
In light of the announcement that Corelle Brands would be merging with Instant Brands, the creators of another ubiquitous kitchen tool, the Instant Pot, Gizmodo did a deep dive into the ongoing controversy of consumers claiming their Pyrex glassware had unexpectedly shattered, sometimes resulting in bodily injury and sometimes resulting in property damage.
After reading it, one is left with the question: Who is liable here? And from a risk management angle, should Corelle — and companies that sell similar glassware — be doing more to prevent these incidents and the ensuing litigation that can come along with them?
Pyrex: A History
If you want to get into the ins and outs of glass cookware and the materials used to make it, the longer Gizmodo piece is worth a read.
But here, we’ll keep it brief: Basically, when Pyrex grew to fame in the early 1900s, it was made with borosilicate, a durable glass that stands up well against thermal shock. Per Gizmodo, that’s “what happens when a temperature change causes different parts of a material to expand at different rates, and the resultant stress can cause the material to crack.”
See: Shards of glass spewing all over your kitchen.
In the 1950s the company started making some of their products with tempered soda-lime glass, which is cheaper to produce and is less amenable to temperature changes.
Since 1998, all of company’s cookware sold in the United States has been made with tempered soda-lime glass. It’s also around this time that reports of sudden Pyrex explosions started rolling in.
As Gizmodo reports, “In an email, the CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission] specified that it has received 850 reports of shattering or exploding in the past seven years. ‘When compared to the millions of glass cookware items that are in use in consumers’ homes, the number of incidents is small and the risk is low,’ CPSC acting press secretary Patty Davis explained in an email.”
Still, this hasn’t stopped the company from dealing with litigation: In June of 2018, customers who experienced unexpected shattering of their Pyrex glassware while cooking filed a classaction lawsuit.
In response to allegations that the company is at fault, Corelle Brands has repeatedly defaulted the blame to the consumer, claiming the incidents are rare and due to customer misuse of the product. Consumers, however, claim that the risks of using the product aren’t made abundantly clear.
With anecdotal reports of these incidents a-plenty — even an employee in the Gizmodo offices had experienced a Pyrex explosion while microwaving something at work — what can be learned here from a risk management perspective?
At minimum, it would seem that the warnings of the dangers that can occur when the products experience thermal shock should be front and center when a product is purchased.
This leads us to the question of what companies expect of consumers and what consumers expect of companies selling them a product. How will these expectations play into risk management and liability?
Consider this: Companies expect consumers will read instruction manuals; consumers expect that if there is a risk with using a product, it will be more obvious than being buried in an instruction manual. In this case, neither of these expectations are being met. So, who is to blame when the product malfunctions?
Even if the lawsuit doesn’t result in large payouts, not addressing this issue in the case of Corelle is likely leading to litigation expenses that could potentially be avoided, along with reputational costs — exactly what a risk manager aims to steer clear of.