Colorado family files lawsuit after Instant Pot safety features fail, scalding daughter

Posted at 11:18 AM, Apr 26, 2019

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. - A Colorado family is suing a major company after they say their Instant Pot left one of their daughters with third-degree burns.

Mary Cooper said she was a big fan of the Instant Pot, a brand of an electric pressure cooker when she ordered it online.

“I thought Instant Pot was the greatest invention. I thought it was going to help my soup cook faster. I thought that was fantastic. Anything that makes dinner faster and easier is great for a young mom,” Cooper said.

After having used the put several times, Cooper decided to make soup for a friend who had lost their mother. Her daughter Caroline, enthusiastic about cooking, was helping her.

“I had made the exact same soup before, cooking with the kids. Everybody is by the island around and Caroline wanted to come help me. The soup is done. It beeps it’s ‘done.’ We manually vent it and steam comes out telling you that it is un-pressurizing,” Cooper said. “The valve float drops, and we go to open it and put the kale in. We were just going to add kale. And it exploded. Completely exploded.”

Caroline, then nine years old, was covered in scalding soup, her face burned by a burst of steam.

Now 11 years old, Caroline recounted what she said happened in that moment.

“I went into the kitchen to help my mom cook her soup because I love cooking with my mom. And when we vented it, I was opening it, and it just exploded. I closed my eyes. I remember my mom was on the floor. My dad had come running down the stairs,” Caroline said. “I was yelling at my mom to get my shirt off because it was still burning me, so my dad picked me up and took me to the hospital right away because my mom was in shock.”

Cooper said the contents of the Instant Pot didn't just spill out; they exploded.

“The sound was horrible. A true explosion,” she said. “The lid flew somewhere - I don’t even know where - and every bit, every bit of the soup came out of the pot and was in our kitchen. On the ceiling, on the floor. All the walls were covered.”

Caroline sustained third-degree burns on about 16 percent of her body. Weeks worth of treatments at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Burn Center were both a physical and mental strain.

“Caroline did not want to see her burns, so they would hold up a sheet so her face didn’t have to look at her body, so they had to dress her and clean her wounds and redress them and put casts on her so she couldn’t move,” Cooper said.

The incident also left Caroline fearful of everyday encounters with some heated objects.

“It was really scary, and I have anxiety still today about it and I was too scared to be around hot things," she said.

Caroline's accident occurred in September 2017 and is the active subject of a lawsuit against Instant Brands, the parent company of Instant Pot. The corporation is listed as a Canadian company, with manufacturing occurring in China.

According to the lawsuit, “Caroline Cooper sustained serious, painful, disfiguring, and permanent scalding burn injuries to her shoulder, arm, chest, and torso.”

The suit also alleges Instant Pot's primary safety claim - that a pressurized pot cannot be opened by the consumer - is not true.

Instant Brand countered the claim in the legal response to the Cooper lawsuit, stating, in part that “the product is reasonably safe, is UL listed, and was designed, manufactured and tested in accordance with all industry, consensus, and regulatory standards.”

Chicago attorney Ken Moll is handling the case.

He said Instant Pot brands have been warned repeatedly their product has a “design defect” that leads to serious burns like the ones Caroline experienced.

“It’s certainly a ticking time bomb,” Moll said. “We’ve got a lot of cases around the world where users are experiencing the lid popping off and the contents of the Instant Pot spewing all over causing third-degree burns. These are the facts.”

Instant Brands recently merged with the Corelle Brands, the owner of the Pyrex cookware label.

KDVR contacted both companies regarding a response to both the lawsuit and the allegation that Instant Pots can be opened while under pressure, despite the marketing claims of the company stating that’s not possible.

“At Instant Brands, we are committed to providing high-quality products to our valued customers, and their satisfaction and safety is our top priority. While it is Instant Brands’ policy not to comment on ongoing litigation, the product complies with all applicable industry standards.”

Moll said when the Coopers contacted the company after Caroline’s accident, the company ignored them, blocked them on social media and told him they’d “take the family seriously” if they filed a lawsuit.

“They had knowledge of lids blowing off in the past, yet they failed to change their warning labels,” Moll said. “There is no warning saying ‘Caution: Lid might open under pressure. Please make sure it's locked.’”

Reporters found a complaint filed with the U.S. Consumer Protection Agency about a woman being burned by an Instant Pot, plus reports of Pot-caused scalding in Texas, Illinois, Florida and Washington state.

KDVR took the additional step of testing Moll’s allegation that consumers could open some Instant Pots while they were pressurized.

While testing three different Instant Pots to see if the lids would open under pressure, reporters found that one repeatedly did so, despite the fact that Instant Pot's user manual said this should never happen.

Under “cooking and safety tips”, the manual states: “As a safety feature, until the float valve drops down the lid is locked and cannot be opened.”

The unit which opened under pressure for KDVR didn’t explode as Caroline and her mother described, but scalding liquid bubbled rapidly over the top and sides of the Instant Pot and flowed over the table and onto the floor.

Cooper said she hopes people are extra careful with Instant Pot, despite its safety features and especially when opening the device.

“I try to warn people when I can,” she said. “If you want to use it, great. Just use with an extreme amount of caution. Because it didn’t lock. And it was still under pressure.”