Consumer Beware: Glass Shower Doors Can Shatter Suddenly

Tempered glass is designed for safety but can have imperfections.

ByABC News
October 5, 2012, 1:51 PM

Oct. 6, 2012— -- Larry Kucharik, 64, of Oak Park, Ill. was having his morning coffee when his wife alerted him to a strange noise. They went upstairs to investigate and in their empty bathroom they found their glass shower door inexplicably shattered and lying in perilous shards all over the bathroom.

"It sounded like popcorn," Kucharik told ABC News, recalling the crackling noise that emanated from the shards. "It was as if someone took a sledgehammer and hit it."

Bewildered and unsure of what to do next, he started to clean up the floor with towels and cardboard. He tapped the top of the seven-foot door's frame lightly when "a large chunk of glass" suddenly fell and slashed him in the leg. It's a scar he still has today even though the incident occurred a year ago.

Kucharik's case is not as uncommon as consumers may think. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports more than 60 complaints from across the U.S. over the last eight years of shower doors shattering for seemingly no reason. The sudden explosions can cause serious lacerations and bleeding, according to CPSC incident reports obtained by ABC News, with some people reporting needing stitches and surgery after being "covered in glass" or having glass "embedded" in their skin. In 2011, manufacturer Kohler Co., for instance, had to recall approximately 100 of its shower doors after consumers reported that the doors were shattering.

The problem occurs with tempered glass, which manufacturers use because of its safety value. However, Mark Meshulam, a window expert, says that pre-existing damage and imperfections are both factors in the doors' spontaneous shattering.

"The number one reason glass doors break is because of some form of damage to the glass around the edges of that door," Meshulam said. "The number two reason would be through inclusions, microscopic imperfections that grow into a larger crack internally to the pressure layers. Those pressure layers eventually cause the glass to just shatter."

Meshulam says tempered glass is supposed to be safe because "it breaks into millions of little pieces." Sometimes, those pieces don't separate quickly enough from previous damage, forming large, sharp, jagged edges that stick together and cause injury.

"If a person is in the shower and the door explodes, they shouldn't immediately run out. They should stop, not move, look around and find the nearest towel to put over the glass to walk out," Meshulam said. "Don't panic and run over glass!"

The glass specialist, whose experience spans over 33 years of glass consultation and investigation, says consumers can take steps to prevent shattering from occurring.

"Owners should check their glass edges for damage yearly, and safety film can be applied to the door to hold it together even if it breaks," Meshulam said. "You never know, and that way you won't have a situation where glass is falling on you."

Luckily for Kucharik, his door's manufacturer, Basco, refunded his money and replaced his glass door. He stuck with the glass because he believed Basco when the company told him that the incident happened as "a complete one in a million" occurrence.

Basco's director of marketing and communications, Linda Garman, provided ABC News with the following statement:

"Basco is the manufacturer of hundreds of thousands of shower and tub doors with minimal occurrence of glass breaking without obvious cause. Our safety tempered glass is produced in accordance with accepted industry standards and we are confident that our products will perform as intended. We are currently looking into our records to determine the facts related to Mr. Kucharik's situation."

Consumers who have experienced this issue should call their door manufacture and report the incident to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.