The Viking refrigerator saga: When high-end went awry

July 18, 2011

Under federal law, companies are required to self-report to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission any product defect that could cause serious harm. Most seem to.

Every now and then, a company that doesn’t do this gets punished by the agency. It’s usually termed an “agreement,” in which the company disputes the allegations and then agrees to pay a penalty anyway.

These situations aren’t common, and it is rarer still when the company involved caters to upscale consumers.

Enter Viking Range Corp., which recently agreed to pay $450,000 after being accused of not telling the government that the doors of several models of its refrigerators were literally falling off their hinges in dozens of homes across America.

When you spend $5,000 to $6,000 for a refrigerator, the last thing you’d expect is to have one of those weighty doors snap loose.

“It swung open and the hinge on the top broke and literally the whole door fell off,” says Gary Budnick of Basking Ridge, N.J. “Fortunately it was me that opened it. When it fell off I was able to catch it. I was shocked.”

The 36-inch-wide door of the bottom-freezer model was extremely heavy, he said, and still filled with condiments. “This thing can crush a kid,” says Budnick, who has three small children at home.

When Viking finally recalled the refrigerators in 2009, the company said it was aware of at least 57 incidents of doors falling off units sold between 1999 and 2006. The recall involved both bottom freezer and side-by-side models.

The CPSC said its subsequent investigation found that at least 10 people had been injured by the falling doors.

In response to a request to comment on the situation, Viking emailed the following statement:

“After the recall was announced, the CPSC staff claimed that Viking should have reported the issue sooner than it did. Although this claim is disputed, Viking has agreed to a settlement of the issue. In agreeing to the settlement, Viking Range Corporation denies CPSC staff allegations that it violated the law, but agrees to pay a civil penalty rather than to participate in additional proceedings and possible litigation.”

The company’s statement went on to say, “The safety and performance of our products and the satisfaction of our valued customers continue to be the top priorities at Viking Range Corporation.”

Budnick says he had expected that would be how the company would have dealt with the situation, but getting the initial problem fixed, followed by the subsequent recall, is an ordeal that most consumers should not have to endure.

He says when the door first fell off, Viking sent a repairman to the house who essentially welded the hinge back up. Having a battle-scarred and jury-rigged refrigerator was bad enough, but then the official hinge kit to remedy the recalled refrigerators didn’t work properly because of the earlier welding.

It took months to get the door fixed. It now looks like it has been surgically repaired, and Budnick says he is still sour about the whole experience. A complaint board is littered with others sharing that sentiment such as this one from Julie:

I have a viking prof refrig model VCBB363. Had no idea about the recall. Today I opened my refrig and the door literally fell off! Hit my leg, arm and strained my back and chest from the sheer weight of the door. My 4lb maltese who always stands by the refrig when I open somehow escaped being crushed by some devine intervention. I cannot imagine what would have happened had a small child opened that door! Not to mention the severe damage to my hardwood floor which has a hole in it from the door crashing down! So dangerous and I found out that my refrig is not even on the recall list! Beware, my refrig is from April 2006!

When it comes to reviews of current model, which sell for $3,000 and up, Viking refrigerators are not among the top-rated, even compared to lower-priced competitors. In the current ratings on Consumer Reports’ website, dozens of refrigerators scored higher — including models that cost $2,000 less. “The more you spend, the worse the stuff that happens,” Budnick surmises.

3 comments

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We had a Viking 48 inch side by side – 8 years old.
Since last Oct. 2010, when the frig and freezer started to defrost and alarms would go off, we have had 9 service calls – costing a total of $2285.96. (the hinges were two of the calls) but we never received a recall. And the other problems were never fixed. Finally on Dec. 12, 2011 they delivered a new frig for half price which was how they were handling the hinge problem. Are we the only ones who had all these problems with Viking? I have written to the President, Vice President-Business Development, Karen McKay, Customer Assurance Department itemizing every service call and cost. Have not heard back. Need to know if anyone else has had these dealings with Viking and what they did about it. We are
about to get an attorney involved.

Posted by Debpeter | Report as abusive

I have had the same issues? Have you resolved your situation? Did you take legal action?

Posted by cernst | Report as abusive

We’ve encountered many, many problems with Viking dishwasher, oven, stove, hood and the refrigerator. After spends close over a thousand dollars on repairs of the refrigerator (not to mention time, annoyance, loss of food, etc.) we actually paid to replace it with Viking’s “generous” replacement offer. That refrigerator was installed two months ago and as of last evening, it does not work – period! No refrigerator – no freezer! We wre proud to purchase American made but sorely disappointed. We only replaced the refrigerator with another Viking because of our cabinetry configuration. Not sure what to do now. I really don’t want to get stuck with this one as it sure is starting out to be another lemon!!! We went through over a year of repairs on the diswasher and finally replaced it with a Bosch – yah!!! Dealing with Viking was not helpful – they apparently don’t care about their reputation.

Posted by TheDukester | Report as abusive