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Keurig coffee maker started a $100k fire, insurer Liberty Mutual alleges

Who doesn’t want to wake up to a steaming cup of coffee?

But walking in to find your coffee maker in flames, that’s another story.

Yet Katherine White encountered that two years ago when her recently purchased Keurig machine mysteriously caught fire and caused $100,000 worth of smoke damage to her Upton home, forcing her family to first move out and then move into the basement for months during the renovations.

Now that fire is at the center of a dispute that’s brewing between two of New England’s most iconic brands.

White’s insurance company, Boston-based Liberty Mutual, has sued Keurig Green Mountain Inc., a Vermont company, over the coffee machine and resulting damage.

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Liberty Mutual, which paid for the home repairs, said Keurig is to blame and contends the brewing machine, a K70 model, is unsafe and should not have been on store shelves, according to a lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court.

“The coffee maker was defective and unreasonably dangerous and therefore not fit for intended use,” Liberty Mutual’s complaint states.

Liberty Mutual declined to comment about the suit.

Keurig said safety is a priority and that its machines are built with thermal sensors and tested to ensure they meet regulatory standards.

“We are generally unaware of our brewers being the cause of any fires,” said Katie Gilroy, a Keurig spokeswoman. “In most cases of allegations regarding our brewers, after it is investigated it is found that there are alternative causes to fire incidents, including electrical.”

Keurig stopped producing its K70 model in 2014. Gilroy declined to comment about the lawsuit, but said Keurig’s insurer denied the original 2014 claim from Liberty Mutual.

With its single-serve K-cups, Keurig has become a household name, winning over caffeine addicts as well as once-a-day drinkers. But it has also been the target of complaints.

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In 2014, Keurig was forced to recall 6.6 million MINI Plus brewers after receiving reports that consumers suffered burns on their faces, hands, and bodies when hot water, coffee, and grounds sprayed out of the brewers. This past March, Keurig, without acknowledging any wrongdoing, paid the Consumer Product Safety Commission $5.8 million to settle charges it failed to immediately report the defect to the federal government, as required by law.

In 2015, fire officials in Oregon suspected a Keurig machine overheated and sparked a fire that destroyed an Oregon apartment, according to news reports. Keurig, however, said a third-party forensics expert found that the brewer’s wiring and other internal components were not damaged in that fire, suggesting the flame did not originate with the machine.

A handful of consumers and one local government agency have reported Keurigs smoking and catching fire to SaferProducts.gov, a Consumer Product Safety Commission website.

White said she bought the Keurig a few months before the fire. She left the brewer plugged in, but turned off. While she was doing yard work, her smoke detectors went off. “We thought it was a fluke or the humidity,” White said.

She raced inside and found the Keurig in flames. While the fire was contained, smoke traveled through her home.

White, 65, now retired in Florida, said she turned in her K-cups. “I’m now using an old-fashioned percolator,” she said.


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.