A Hollywood, Fla., couple alleges in a lawsuit that a defective Xbox, Microsoft's popular gaming system, ignited and caused a fire that severely damaged their home.
Richard Steckler and his wife, Lori, claim in their suit, filed July 25 in Broward Circuit Court, that Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft was negligent and also liable under strict liability theory for the damage to their home. The April 2003 fire, they say, forced them out of their home for a year.
Representatives of Microsoft did not return calls for comment by deadline Monday.
In February 2005, Microsoft announced that it would voluntarily replace the power cords on 14.1 million Xbox gaming consoles worldwide because of possible fire hazards. This recall affected about 70 percent of the gaming systems it manufactured. According to a Microsoft news release, seven customers reported sustaining a minor burn to the hand, and customers reported smoke damage in 23 other cases.
"This is a preventative step we're choosing to take despite the rarity of these incidents," Robbie Bach, the senior vice president of the Home & Entertainment division at Microsoft, said in the release.
But the recall occurred long after the problem the Stecklers said they had. Their attorney, Russell S. Adler of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler in Fort Lauderdale, said he hired a cause-and-origin expert to prove that the Xbox device caused the fire.
According to the complaint, Microsoft knew or should have known that the Xbox device had a tendency to overheat and cause a fire hazard. Moreover, the complaint alleges, the defendant should have warned consumers about possible dangers.
Adler said he contacted Microsoft in February about compensation for the Stecklers but the company was unwilling to resolve the case. He said Microsoft has settled other damage cases associated with Xbox fires.
The Xbox is a high-speed gaming system about the size of a VCR that attaches to a television. Costing about $150, it enables users to compete with other people online or play music and DVDs.
Richard Steckler said in an interview that he was playing hockey against online opponents around midnight in April 2003 when he paused the game to watch news coverage of the United States invasion of Iraq. Steckler fell asleep on the couch. When he woke up at about 4 a.m., he said he saw flames and smoke.
"I walked out of the room and couldn't see anything," Steckler said.
The Stecklers managed to escape, but they were unable to rescue one of their dogs, which died. Richard sought medical attention for smoke inhalation.
Steckler runs his own video production company, RJS Video Production. The fire destroyed more than $50,000 worth of film equipment, he said. That left him out of work for nearly a year, until he could replace the equipment.
The fire destroyed the home office where the Xbox device was located, according to the fire report. Steckler said the fire caused major damage throughout the rest of the house, which had to be gutted and renovated. The Stecklers spent four months living in a hotel before moving in with Richard's parents. They now are living in their own house again.
Last November, a Texas couple sued Microsoft, claiming that their Xbox device started an electrical fire. Also last November, the Daily Post in Great Britain reported that an Xbox device caused a fire after it was left on standby.