BLUEFIELD – Whirlpool and Rent-A-Center have requested the federal court dismiss a complaint filed against them in which a McDowell County couple says a fire caused by a defective Whirlpool dryer destroyed their home.
Whirlpool and Rent-A-Center deny they bear any responsibility for the fire that allegedly destroyed Wayne and Crystal Stone's house, but the Stones say a malfunctioning Whirlpool dryer lay as the root cause of the blaze.
The Stones originally filed a complaint Nov. 30 in McDowell Circuit Court, saying they entered into a rent-to-own contract with Rent-A-Center for a Whirlpool washer and dryer.
However, after the couple brought the machines into their War home, the dryer began malfunctioning, according to their complaint.
At some point, the Stones hired an agent of either Whirlpool or Rent-A-Center to inspect and repair the malfunctioning dryer, the suit states.
Despite alleged repairs, the dryer caused a fire on Dec. 1, 2007, which destroyed the Stones' home and resulted in the subsequent loss of their possessions, the complaint says.
Because of their losses, the Stones say they suffered severe emotional distress and depression.
The Stones blames Whirlpool and Rent-A-Center for strict liability, negligence and breach of warranty.
But Whirlpool and Rent-A-Center contend they should not be held liable for the fire.
Although Rent-A-Center admits it sent an employee to pick up the dryer and to deliver it to a service center on Oct. 10, 2007, it says it has no knowledge of the alleged fire.
The rental company wants to see the Stones' case dismissed, saying the Stones or others may have been partially to blame for the fire.
"Plaintiffs' damages, if any, were not proximately caused by the actions of the Defendant, but by the intervening negligence or actions of other entities or individuals," its response states
Whirlpool claims its dryer was not defectively designed and also wants to see the case against it dismissed.
"Plaintiffs' damages were caused in whole or in part by Plaintiffs' alteration or modification of the product," the response states. "Plaintiffs' claims are barred in whole or in part as the product at issue was state of the art at the time of its manufacture."
The Stones seek an unspecified judgment, plus pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney's fees and costs.
Whirlpool and Rent-A-Center seek a dismissal of the case, plus costs, attorneys' fees and other relief the court deems just.
Because the defendants say the Stones seek more than $75,000 and because they are residents of different states, the defendants removed the case to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
"Plaintiffs claim damages because their 'home was burned down and all Plaintiff's possessions lost,'" the defendants' removal states. "Furthermore, Plaintiffs claim damages including but not limited to severe emotional distress, depression, loss of the value of real and personal property, and various other incidents to property loss. Considering the nature of the claim and the fact that a home is involved, the amount in controversy in this case exceeds the sum of $75,000."
Derek W. Lefler of Gibson, Lefler and Associates in Princeton will be representing the Stones.
Corey L. Palumbo and Thomas M. Hancock of Bowles, Rice, McDavid, Graff and Love in Charleston will be representing Rent-A-Center.
Michael Bonasso and Elizabeth L. Taylor of Flaherty, Sensabaugh and Bonasso in Charleston will be representing Whirlpool.
U.S. District Court case number: 1:10-24