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A Summary of the Problem: Federal Pacific Stab-Lok Electric Panel and Circuit Breaker Hazards

Having reviewed documentation regarding this issue, and having discussed the issue with forensic experts in the field, I am convinced that a latent hazard exists where FPE Stab-Lok circuit breakers continue in use. The hazard is worst for double-pole breakers. Published reports of actual tests that were performed indicate that under certain conditions it is possible for one leg of these circuits to attempt to trip the breaker, resulting in a jammed breaker which will afterward not trip under any load condition. I infer from the Commission final press release in 1983 that the manufacturer and some Commission members were of the opinion that these conditions would not occur in the field.

This may be an erroneous conclusion. Some very common household appliances operate are powered by a two-pole 240V circuit (protected by the type of breaker under discussion) but use two or more independent 120V sub-circuits inside the appliance. Two obvious cases are electric clothes dryers and ranges. If, for example, the low-heat (110V) heater in a dryer were to short to the dryer case, a serious overcurrent would occur on one "leg" of the circuit.

Another wiring practice, using a single two-pole breaker to power a split circuit which uses a shared neutral, such as may be installed in kitchens in some areas, is nearly certain to have each leg of the circuit loaded independently and thus subject to single-leg overloading and subsequent breaker jamming. A breaker which jams and then fails to trip under this condition is, in my opinion, a serious fire hazard.

A careful reading of the CPSC press release of March 3, 1984 suggests that the press release was very careful NOT to conclude that there is no hazard, but simply that the information at hand did not prove the hazard, and that the Commission did not have funds to pursue testing. In this document, the representation that no real hazard exists is made by the manufacturer of the device - not exactly a neutral party, and even that wording is cautious in tone: "FPE breakers will trip reliably at most overload levels." Readers should see the failure rates cited in the IAEI letter below.

It's the exceptions that cause fires.

Consumers should read and follow the Commission's advice regarding circuit breakers. But this advice is insufficient. The Commission's admonition to avoid overloading circuits and to turn off and have examined devices which seem to be creating a problem is a poor substitute for reliable, automatic, overcurrent protection. It is precisely because dangerous conditions can and do occur without adequate recognition and action by a consumer that circuit breakers and fuses are installed to provide overcurrent protection in the first place.

Therefore it is hardly an adequate "fix" for FPE breakers to just tell consumers to handle these cases manually.

It is possible that some breakers may perform with adequate reliability, possibly those manufactured after the companies discovered safety defects and improper practices in listing the product, and possibly those manufactured in Canada. However, in absence of an explicit statement from the manufacturer and/or the US CPSC indicating that newer stock equipment is defect free, and considering that defects occur in both breakers and the panels themselves, and finally, that testing showed failures in both in-use equipment and new off-the-shelf devices, my advice to consumers and electricians is that these panels be replaced with newer equipment, particularly those which use 240-volt double-pole breakers described in the literature. In my opinion, if a fire or other hazard occurs with this device, neither the manufacturer nor the Commission, who have suggested in the press release that data was inconclusive or inadequate to establish a hazard, will accept responsibility for losses that may ensue.

However a building inspector, home inspector, or contractor who makes any warranty of safety, by virtue of his/her position close to the consumer, is certain bear this very liabilty.

Canadian FPE Stab-Lok panels and Federal Pacific or Federal Pioneer Circuit Breakers:

(As of May 1999) I have learned from Schneider Canada that Federal pioneer circuit breakers sold by that company are re-named from Federal Pacific circuit breakers and that two 15-amp single-pole models NC015 and NC015CP made between August 1, 1996 and June 11, 1997 have been recalled. The Schneider recall notice is available here. I have asked the company to determine if Federal Pioneer and Federal Pacific components sold in Canada were made in the U.S. or if tooling used to produce them was identical with that used in the U.S. If this is the case (as one might expect based on economies of production) one should consider the possibility that other defects reported in the U.S. may also appear in Canadian installations. The Warranty Alert was issued by the Ontario New Home Warranty program in October 1997 and provides for circuit breaker replacement. Schneider Canada is an electrical supplier whose product lines combine those previously marketed under the names Federal Pacific Electric, Federal Pioneer, Square-D, Tele Mechanique, Modicon, and Merlin Gerin.

(As of February 1999) On speaking with an attorney who is researching FPE failures for a possible class action suit I have learned the following: Since a portion of the safety defect with FPE breakers may be due to variations during manufacture, and since Canadian breakers may be manufactured in a different plant from those made in the U.S., it's quite possible that the field performance of Canadian breakers may be different than the U.S. design. As of this date I have not had report of a failure in a Canadian breaker. NOTE that this website is not an official, nor a funded resource regarding this problem. There is no requirement that failures be reported to us for tabulation here. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence of failures.

Also, having inspected a few Canadian FPE electric panels themselves, I have observed at least two ongoing concerns: 1.) the same bus design was used as in the U.S. equipment. I've seen very poor retention of breakers in the bus - in one house the breaker was held in place by duct tape, as the spring design in the contact of the breaker where it plugs into the special opening in the bus appears not to have held the breaker in place. I have also seen breakers modified with their inserting pins bent and modified to fit a breaker into a slot where it did not belong - a step that is impossible with other breaker designs. 2.) A similar or identical panel design may expose consumers to panel arcing and fires regardless of changes in the breakers themselves.

    

Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division: Middlesex County

DOCKET NO. L-2904-97

____________________________________________________________

Serag Yacout, Satish Chaudhary and 432 Owners, Inc., on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated,

Federal Pacific Electric Company, Reliance Electric Company,

Defendants                                                                                                    

CLASS ACTION NOTICE

To:      ALL PERSONS OR ENTITIES IN THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY WHO CURRENTLY OWN, UTILIZE OR POSSESS ANY CIRCUIT BREAKER SOLD OR MANUFACTURED BY FEDERAL PACIFIC ELECTRIC CO. DURING THE PERIOD 1965 TO 1980, WHICH BEARS LABELING INDICATING THE BREAKER IS "UL LISTED" OR CONTAINS A SIMILAR CERTIFICATION THAT THE BREAKER COMPORTS WITH APPLICABLE UL STANDARDS, AND ANY PERSONS OR ENTITIES WHO HAVE REPLACED SAID BREAKERS SINCE 1991.

1.   Why should I Read This Notice?

If you own Federal Pacific circuit breakers or have replaced Federal Pacific circuit breakers, please read this notice.  It contains important information.  You may be entitled to monetary damage and/or other relief. This Notice arises out of a class action lawsuit pending in New Jersey.  The Court has directed that all claimants and prospective claimants must identify themselves in response to this notice on or before April 20, 2005.  If you do not respond, you will lose your rights.

2.   What Is This Lawsuit About?

This Notice affects many persons who have Federal Pacific circuit breakers.  The Court has already determined that Federal Pacific violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.  The violation occurred because FPE cheated during its testing of circuit breakers in order to obtain Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approval.   The Court has already certified this action as a class action, but in order for your claim to be considered you must act now.  If you qualify as outlined below, you may be entitled to monetary damage and/or other relief.  The relief may include three times the cost of replacing your circuit breakers.

3.  Am I Eligible to Pursue a Claim?

Based on the Court's rulings, you may be eligible to pursue a claim if you meet the following criteria:

·         You own a home or building in the State of New Jersey;

·         You must be the owner at the time that FPE Stab-lok circuit breakers manufactured and sold between June 29, 1971 and July 1, 1980 were installed as original equipment in your home or building; or you had renovations or additions done which included circuit breakers made and sold in that period while you were the owner;

·         The home or building contains original FPE Stab-Lok circuit breakers (If you do, the circuit breaker panel box will have the name and logo of Federal Pacific Electric Company and the words Stab-Lok on the breaker panel box) or you replaced the breakers since 1991.  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE ANY OF THE CIRCUIT BREAKERS – you will be able to determine whether you have Federal Pacific Electric Company circuit breakers by looking at the outside of the panel box and/or the inside of the door to the box.  Please note that if your panel box or the circuit breakers within the panel box refer to "Federal Pacific Equipment Inc." it is referring to a different company from Federal Pacific Electric Company.  If you have Federal Pacific Equipment Inc. circuit breakers they are not included in this claim;

·         You are not one of the defendants, any entity in which any of the defendants have a controlling interest, any of the defendants' past or present parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, officers and directors; or a retail or wholesale dealer who sold Federal Pacific circuit breakers and panel boxes.

4.  What Do I Need To Do To Continue To Pursue a Potential Claim?

If you believe you are eligible to recover and you wish to remain eligible, you must respond to this Notice by completing the coupon form below and mailing it to the FPE Administrator.  THE COMPLETED COUPON MUST BE POSTMARKED NO LATER THAN APRIL 20, 2005 or you may go directly to www.yacoutclassaction.com to respond to this Notice; if you do so, you must do that by April 20, 2005.   If you fail to DO SO, YOUR CLAIM WILL BE BARRED. 

The FPE Administrator will then mail you an FPE Stab-lok Circuit Breaker Information Form or you can obtain the Information Form on the website.  The completed Information Form and any documentation requested therein must be mailed to the third party administrator AND must be postmarked BY A DATE SPECIFIED THEREIN.  IF YOU FAIL TO submit a complete Information Form BY THE DATE SPECIFIED IN THE MATERIALS TO BE FURNISHED, you will be barred from further participating in this litigation. 

Your claim may be subject to verification and investigation, including an inspection of the circuit breaker panel board and giving testimony with respect to your claim. 

5.  Where Do I Get Additional Information?

This Notice provides only a summary of matters regarding the litigation and is not deemed an admission by any party.  You may seek the advice and guidance of your own private attorney, at your own expense, if you wish.  For more detailed information, you may review the pleadings, records, and other papers on file in this litigation, which may be inspected during regular business hours at the Clerk's Office, Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, located at
One JFK Square, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

If you have any questions regarding this Notice, you can contact class counsel:

Chase Kurshan Herzfeld & Rubin, LLC

5N
Regent Street,
Suite 508
Livingston, New Jersey  07039-1617

Attn: Lisa Santana

Tel: (973) 535-8840

Email: lsantana@chaselaw.nj.com

PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT THE COURT OR THE CLERK'S OFFICE.

The Honorable Bryan D. Garruto.

(CUT ALONG DOTTED LINE – PLEASE  PRINT)

REQUEST FOR INFORMATION FORM

I would like to have an FPE Stab-lok Circuit Breaker Information Form mailed to:

Name:______________________________________________________

Address:____________________________________________________

City: ____________________________State ______ Zip Code________

Property Address(es) where FPE Stab-lok circuit breakers are installed (if different from above address)

Address:____________________________________________________

City: ____________________________State ______ Zip Code________

CERTIFICATION: I HEREBY CERTIFY UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY THAT (1) I AM THE ORIGINAL OWNER OF A HOME OR PROPERTY WHERE FPE CIRCUIT BREAKERS ARE INSTALLED, (2) I CONTINUE TO OWN THE PROPERTY AND (3) THE ABOVE INFORMATION IS TRUE AND CORRECT.

Signature:_____________________________________ Date:___________

MAIL THIS REQUEST TO:

                  Yacout Information Administrator                                                                              
P.O. Box 600727                                                                                                               Jacksonville, FL 32260

Or respond via email at http://www.yacoutclassaction.com

This REQUEST FOR INFORMATION FORM must be completed and sent to the FPE Administrator in order to continue to remain a member of the class.  THIS FORM OR YOUR EMAIL RESPONSE MUST BE POSTMARKED OR RECEIVED NO LATER THAN APRIL 20, 2005 in order to maintain any rights you may have.

In building inspection reports of the condition of the electrical service panel I inform my clients as follows:

*** Safety Warning*** I have observed a Federal Pacific Electric "Stab-Lok" service panel in the house. This panel is a latent fire hazard: it's circuit breakers may fail to trip in response to an overcurrent or a short circuit. Failure of a circuit breaker to trip can result in a fire, property damage, or personal injury. A circuit breaker that may not trip does not afford the protection that is intended and required. Simply replacing the circuit breakers is not a reliable repair. The panel should be replaced, and significant expense may be involved. Additional information about the fire and shock hazards associated with this equipment can be read on the internet at http://www.inspect-ny.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm.

Explanation

  • Latent fire/shock hazard: Properly described, the presence of an FPE Stab-lok electrical panel in a building is a latent fire or shock hazard. The panel does not "initiate" an unsafe condition. Rather, when an unsafe condition such as a short circuit or current overload on a circuit occurs, the equipment may not provide the protection expected. The result can be an overheated wire and an electrical fire and/or personal injury. If you are not sure how to identify an FPE Stab-Lok electrical panel, see HOW TO IDENTIFY FPE & FP. While we have had fewer reports of failures in the Canadian version of this equipment (Labeled Federal Pioneer Stab-Lok) we have had field failure reports from Canada, and there has been one Canadian product recall. See CANADIAN VERSIONS of FPE Stab-Lok.

  • Past "performance" does not mean "safe": The fact that a problem has not occurred in a building is absolutely no assurance that questionable equipment is "safe." A circuit breaker has normally little to do except pass current onwards until there is an unsafe condition. If an unsafe condition has not occurred in a building the fact that a breaker may not trip is not discovered. If an overcurrent or short circuit subsequently occurs it's a bit late to discover that the circuit breaker did not do its job. For an in-depth technical report explaining the hazards of this equipment see FPE Stab-Lok TECHNICAL REPORT

  • Panel replacement is required: There is no safe alternative to complete replacement of the FPE Stab-Lok electrical panel. Replacement circuit breakers do not reduce the hazard, both because the breakers themselves have not been shown to be a safety improvement and because there are multiple hazards involving the breakers, the panel bus design, and the panel itself.

  • Financial impact: The presence of an unsafe electrical panel and the need to replace it is not, by itself, a reason not to buy a property any more than needing to replace an unsafe tire on an automobile would be, itself, a reason not to buy the car. The cost of a new electrical panel is not a significant percentage of the value of a property.

  • Real hazard: The safety problems with this equipment are real, not theoretical. In addition to the information on-line, I have received a number of reports of panel overheating instances and related fires. It really happens. Some electricians have written to me that they call these "federal no-trip" panels. See REPORTS OF FPE FAILURES. Regrettably, parties with conflicts of interest in this matter, including FPE and some building sellers, have offered inaccurate "opinions" which have confused other consumers, inspectors, and realtors. For our response to an egregious example which the FPE attorney placed in a national magazine, see IAEI LETTER.

  • Class action status: At least one attorney has brought a successful class action suit (in New Jersey). Information in the court documents (available at the FPE information website) also confirmed the hazards and history of this safety problem. If/when there is some suitable public action and announcement I'll post it at the website and submit it to the appropriate publications such as the ASHI Reporter as well.

  • Ongoing research: For research purposes we are quite interested in obtaining actual field samples of these panels, both when overheating or fires have occurred and when they are replaced before such an unfortunate event. When you come across one of these that's to be replaced I'd be grateful to hear about it; we can arrange shipment of the old panel to the appropriate expert at no cost to the homeowner. The panels are tested by an independent forensic engineer in order to develop additional competent data for CPSC and industry. To submit an FPE Stab-lok panel for research use the "Contact Us" link on any of our web pages.

  • Accurate reporting: In all cases it is appropriate to report the risk to the consumer in clear, calm, unambiguous language. Inspectors who are vague about hazardous conditions are liable to charge of failure to exercise due diligence, malpractice, or worse, criminal negligence. Inappropriately vague language which does not make clear the hazards is negligent. Inspectors must be clear in reporting the hazards of and need for action concerning this defect.
    Just as vague "soft soaping" language is misleading and negligent, inappropriately frightening language is not appropriate in a professional condition of property report.
    Which is worse: a nervous buyer who understands that it's a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed, or a comfortable buyer who doesn't understand that and who later has an electrical fire that could have been prevented. Just ask: nervous vs fire, nervous vs fire, and figure out what's the professional responsible choice.

  • Urgency of action: For some hazards it may be that a reasonable course of action is simply to be informed that risks are involved, leaving to the consumer the choice to replace equipment or to correct an unsafe condition. Some unsafe conditions do not need to be handled as an emergency. Choices regarding of urgency and extent of action depend on the risks involved, the use of the facility, and the alternative costs to remedy the condition. However in the case of electrical equipment which does not perform as intended my opinion is that the risks are serious enough to require prompt action.

  • Bias and Financial Gain: we conduct this research and provide this information as a non-profit project out of personal concern and interest in the material. Home inspectors and building professionals have a professional obligation to protect their clients and other consumers by presenting information in an accurate, informed, and unbiased manner using clear, unambiguous language which speaks to the point. Simply reporting an FPE Stab-Lok electrical panel as "obsolete" or "hard to find replacement parts for" is potentially criminally negligent.

  • Ethical building inspection means not profiting from repair work and not engaging in conflicting interests. It means not having any financial connection with properties inspected. (See the ASHI Code of Ethics.) It means not having hidden relationships with referring agencies such as real estate firms - known in the home inspection industry as "the buy-in" or "paid referral" or "referral agreements" (which are not disclosed to the client ahead of time and perhaps never). It does NOT mean soft-pedaling the information to keep realtors and sellers happy at the risk of a loss or injury to the ultimate consumer or building occupants.

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