According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) statistics, dangerous or defective products result in nearly three million injuries and 22,000 fatalities every year in the United States.
The products liability case analysis below shows how a products liability case may be developed and a lawsuit filed against the manufacturer of an unsafe product. The reality is that many injuries can be avoided if proper steps are taken to ensure the safety of everyone who uses a product.
Pennsylvania requires that a product meet the ordinary expectations of the consumer. In other words, the risks of using the product do not outweigh its benefits. Simply put, products must be safe for us to use and not be unreasonably dangerous. When a dangerous product hurts or kills someone, the manufacturer must be held accountable. As a result, this deters the manufacturer from the design and sale of unsafe products.
A mother woke up to the sound of bleeping smoke detectors and realized there were flames coming from the living room. She woke her husband and they fought their way through the smoke and flames to their children’s bedrooms. Amazingly, the family had practiced how to react in the event of a fire and they all escaped. However, they all suffered second and third degree burn as a consequence of jumping out the second floor window to escape. In addition, they suffered severe smoke inhalation and broken bones.
After an initial investigation into the cause of the fire, the homeowner’s insurance company thought the fire started from a space heater.
We were hired to represent the family in a potential products liability case against the manufacturer of the space heater. Manufacturers have an obligation to make their products safe for their intended use. In other words, products should be free of defects and safe to use.
Root cause analysis
An inspection was performed of the remnants of the home by fire cause and origin experts and electrical engineers. Together, they identified the root cause of the fire. It was determined that the root cause was a defective electrical outlet into which the space heater was plugged.
The electrical outlet was a drop-in floor box. This means that appliances and other electronic equipment may be plugged into a power outlet in the floor for convenience. And inside the floor box is a receptacle where the appliance plugs into.
The drop-in floor box electrical receptacle, along with the contents of the living room, were carefully removed, inspected, and secured in safe storage. Then, we worked with a lab who x-rayed the insides of the receptacle.
What we learned
Next, we learned that the floor box and receptacle were manufactured in China and was fraught with a history of recalls and manufacturing problems. As a result, the design process did not meet standard engineering practices. Furthermore, the manufacturer did not test the receptacle in its environment of use, or with a plug inserted into the receptacle, nor did it perform any hazard analysis.
Finally, the defect in the design of the receptacle was identified: it only had metal on one side and plastic on the other. Consequently, the receptacle only made electrical contact on one side of the prongs of the plug inserted into the receptacle. Because there was metal on only one side of the prong and plastic on the other, all of the electrical current was required to flow through the limited surface area on one side of the prong. This created poor contact, or connection. A poor connection causes electrical arcing and overheating, causing a fire, which is what happened here.
We obtained different drop-in floor receptacles from other manufacturers that used the safer design of metal on both sides of the plug. This means there is better contact and decreased electrical overheating and, therefore, electrical fire, can be eliminated.
The final and most important element of a products liability case are the damages caused by the unsafe product. In this case, we worked with our clients’ treating physicians and burn experts at the Burn Center. We developed medical illustrations and animations to show the family’s injuries and how they were treated. Burn injuries are some of the most painful and horrendous injuries people may sustain and require ongoing treatment. Also, we put together life care plans to demonstrate the family’s future medical needs.
Justice and closure
This family was blindsided in the middle of the night by a defective electrical outlet and were delivered the justice they deserved. In addition, the manufacturer was held accountable for the consequences of its unsafe product. The result meant it would not be business as usual and they must pay for all the harm caused. Finally, they had to ensure their products were safe for future use. This products liability case analysis proves that safety must come first, and not profits over people.