Will Heater Manufacturer Be SLAPPed Over YouTube Safety Video Lawsuit?

Continental Appliances, Inc., a California manufacturer of a gas wall heater sold at Lowe’s, sued the unknown poster of a YouTube video on Friday for claiming that its product creates “an imminent danger of fire and serious injury” because of “uncertain fuel settings.” (see below)

The lawsuit appears likely to fail, however.

Here’s why.

When the manufacturer of a product that is alleged to be unsafe sues to quell public critiques about the product’s safety, it may create a strong impression that the plaintiff could be trying to cover-up important safety and product defect information.

That’s what seems to be happening here. An anonymous YouTube poster (lowesprofitsb4safety) used social media to alert the public about a potential for “imminent danger of fire and safety to the homeowner using” plaintiff’s dual fuel liquid and propane gas heater.

What is the particular safety concern here? According to the video’s narrator:

“An ANSI safety requirement, adopted by all North American testing agencies, mandated that dual fuel gas appliances must shut down automatically if the consumer inadvertently connects the heater to the incorrect gas for one of the two possible gas settings. The reasons for these requirements are as follows:

If a consumer incorrectly connects liquid propane gas to a unit that is set operate on natural gas, the increased BTU flow would cause a very high level of carbon monoxide, which is a deadly poisonous gas. The unsafe increase of LP gas going thru the heater will also cause excessive flame pattern that will extend out of the protected fire chamber. This will cause an open and unshielded fire in the homeowner’s living room or bedroom. This open fire within the household is in imminent danger of igniting fabric, bedding, or clothing as soon as it comes into contact with the flame

There is presently a complaint with the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission, the governing body for indoor heating safety requires that if an appliance is operating the wrong gas tank, it must have a device to shut it down within five (5) minutes. [Plaintiff’s] products have no such device…[Plaintiff], using a wording error, or loophole, in the intended ANSI safety standard continues to manufacture…this proven unsafe product without regard for the consumer’s safety.”

California’s anti-SLAPP law might be used to throw this case out of court. California’s legislature enacted the “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (‘SLAPP’)” law to quell lawsuits intended to chill citizens’ First Amendment speech under the First Amendment over important matters of public interest. Like, for example, potentially dangerous products:

Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §sect; 425.16(a): The Legislature finds and declares that there has been a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances. The Legislature finds and declares that it is in the public interest to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process. To this end, this [SLAPP law] shall be construed broadly. brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances. The Legislature finds and declares that it is in the public interest to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process. To this end, this section shall be construed broadly.

Let’s take a look at the legal claims in plaintiff’s lawsuit. First, the fact that Continental Appliances cites a non-existent trademark law, 28 U.S.C. § 1125(a) isn’t likely to help.

While it is presently unclear whether the YouTuber who posted this video is a competitor of plaintiff’s, the video doesn’t suggest it. That’s why plaintiff’s second and third claims alleging that the video poster engaged in “unfair competition” and “false advertising” also appear likely to fail. The unknown defendant isn’t trying to sell or advertise a competing product. These claims also suggest an attempt to cover-up serious safety issues that could affect owners of plaintiff’s heater.

Plaintiff’s fourth claim for defamation and slander, and fifth claim for trade libel might be viable, but Continental Appliances would need to show that the safety issues and concerns detailed in defendant’s video and narrative are actually false.

The graphic and worrisome video suggests otherwise.

You can read Continental Appliance’s lawsuit allegation defamation, libel, slander, and more below, and follow the case docket here.
Complaint for Product Disparagement, Unfair Competition, False Advertising, Defamation/Slander Per Se, and Trade Libel (Continental Appliances, Inc. v. John Doe

Here is the video that the plaintiff filed the lawsuit over: