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Product Liability Claims Around The Home

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Product Liability Claims Around the Home

Brien Roche

Product Liability Claims Around the Home-Burn Injuries

Burn injuries around the home are a common phenomenon.  The products that may be the source of the burn are varied:

  • household furniture
  • mattresses or mattress pads
  • electronic toys
  • lighters
  • stoves

Household furniture that is cushioned with polyurethane foam may be a time bomb.  This is a petroleum based product that has some of the same combustion characteristics as gasoline.  In addition, this type of foam consumes oxygen as it burns thereby further endangering the occupants.  It is commercially feasible to make furniture reasonably safe at a reasonable cost.  Furniture covering material is available that will act as a fire retardant.  Fire barrier materials that are designed to go between the fabric and the highly flammable foam have been produced for decades.  In addition, the potentially combustible material may be treated with fire retardants.

It is well known that furniture may be exposed to small ignition sources around the house.  In light of that manufacturers have a duty to design their products without defects in contemplation of those foreseeable uses and misuses.

Other products such as mattresses and mattress pads, electronic toys, and lighters are all subject to federal regulations.  Those regulations may be the source of certain standards to establish liability.

Household stoves that have a opening oven door that is low enough to the floor for a child to climb on may present a hazard of tipping with resulting serious injury.  Both the American National Standards Institute and Underwriter’s Laboratory have issued standards to deal with this issue.

In looking at burn injury cases there are several things to be considered:

  • There are several governmental and non-governmental agencies that may be the source of certain standards such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology which is a governmental agency, the U. S. Fire Administration which is another governmental agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, another governmental agency.  The National Fire Protection Association and the National Association of State Fire Marshalls are both private agencies but they have conducted extensive testing relating to fires.
  • Evidence of a recall notice is compelling evidence and may be admissible at trial on the theory that it shows that the defect existed when the product was in the manufacturer’s hands.
  • The manufacturer may contend that it should not be held liable on the grounds that the plaintiff is an unintended user.  In general, the intended use of a product includes any use that is reasonably foreseeable to the seller.  A particular use may be considered foreseeable even if the precise manner in which the injury occurred was not.
  • The burning characteristics of the product should be fully developed by showing the rate of heat release, temperatures at various locations in the product, the way in which smoke, carbon monoxide and other by-products are generated and the rate at which oxygen is consumed.

Product Liability Claims In The Home-Smoke Detectors

Smoke detector defects can lead to the death or injury of all of the occupants of a residence. This is the type of product liability claim that should never arise. Smoke detectors fall into categories of either ionization or photoelectric smoke detectors.  The vast majority are ionization detectors.  The ionization detectors emit a beam of  ions in a chamber and when the smoke enters the chamber the smoke particles obstruct the flow of ions thereby causing a reduction of current flow and thereby activating the alarm. 

Photoelectric detectors emit a beam of light into a chamber and when the smoke particles enter the chamber and interfere with the beam the alarm is activated.

Typically, ionization detectors respond more quickly to the presence of numerous small particles of smoke such as those produced by by a flaming or fast fire.  Photoelectric detectors, on the other hand, usually respond more quickly to larger particles such as those produced by a smoldering or a slower spreading fire.

The time frame between the activation of a photoelectric detector and the activation of an ionization detector can be considerable.  Typically, the photoelectric detectors tend to give an earlier warning.

In any fire case involving a potentially faulty smoke detector it is critical that the detector itself be obtained or that at least its security be maintained.  It is also important of course to know who else is conducting any inspections of the smoke detector. 

The thrust of any such case involving an alleged smoke detector is that a timely warning from a  properly designed and functioning detector would have prevented injury or at least limited the injury to something minor. 

Product Liability-Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are almost universal.  You find them in cell phones, laptop computers and a host of consumer devices.  The primary reason that Smart Phones are as thin as they are is because of these types of batteries.  There are believed to be more than 4 billion such batteries that were made simply during the year 2012.  It has been discovered however, that they can pose a danger in that they may explode or catch on fire spontaneously.  They are supposed to shut down rather than causing a fire.  The problem is that the separator that separates the positive cathode from the negative anode sometimes can be broken, which can then allow contact between the negative and positive layers which generates a great deal of heat causing the electrolyte solution within the battery to expand rapidly and then either ignite or explode.  The battery is like most batteries in that it has a positive cathode and a negative anode and the electricity is generated by the electrons or, more precisely, the negative ions passing through the separator to the positive side.  As long as this is done in the anticipated controlled fashion, then all that is generated is electricity. 

It is believed that batteries carried in cargo planes were the potential causes of two fatal crashes in recent years according to the Airline Pilot Association International. 

Model airplane hobbyists are also users of these types of batteries to allow prolonged flight for their model airplanes, have long known that these types of batteries explode frequently upon impact.

Drop Side Cribs

On December 15, 2010 the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously to ban the manufacture, sale and resale of cribs which have a side rail that moves up and down. The product liability hazard was simply too great.  The purpose of such a side rail is to allow parents to more easily lift the child from the crib.  The problem with the side rail is typically an assembly problem which can lead to the drop side rail partially detaching from the crib creating a V-like gap between the mattress and the side rail where the baby can get caught and potentially suffocate or strangle. 

This new standard published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission will take effect in June of 2011 and will prohibit hotels and child care centers from using drop-side cribs although these facilities would have two years to purchase new cribs.The new regulation however puts facilities on notice of the hazard and as such they would be well advised to discontinue use of such cribs immediately rather than waiting two years.

Bunk Bed Entrapment

Bunk bed entrapment of a small child can result in serious injury or death.  The space between the bed frame and the guardrail on some bunk beds is large enough for a child’s body to slip through but not for the head sometimes resulting in the child in effect hanging to death.  This product liability issue is being addressed by some manufacturers.It is well known that children over the age of one begin trying to climb out of their beds.  With their new found mobility and lack of judgment they are excellent candidates for entrapment in bunk beds.  The standard across the industry typically is that children of that age should not be put on the top bed of a bunk bed. 

Certain standards over the years have been published by a number of different private and public organizations such as the American Furniture Manufacturers Association (AFMA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society for Testing and Materials.  All of these are important sources to check in terms of establishing standards in regards to bunk beds.

In handling cases of this nature there are several things that are critical:

  • Get possession of the bed.
  • Measure the bed and photograph the bed and videotape the process of taking such measurements.
  • Check any labeling on the bed to identify the manufacturer and the date of manufacture.
  • Locate the retailer since there may be allegations made by the manufacturer that the retailer made some modifications to the bed. 
  • Get a copy of any 911 calls that were placed relating to the incident along with a copy of any pertinent governmental reports.

Stove Range Defects

Stove range defects are a hidden hazard in many homes and apartments thereby giving rise to product liability claims.  A serious hazard that many consumers simply are not aware of is that of range tipping.  If a range tips as a result of a child putting weight on an open door, then that typically results in burns from the forward tipping range.  Many ranges are inherently unstable when their oven door is open.  Once that door is open then it is  typically low enough for a child to climb on.  That forward tipping can be initiated by a weight of 30 pounds or less.

Underwriters Laboratories has published certain standards to prevent tipping.  This has required manufacturers to develop certain anti-tipping brackets to secure ranges to either the floor or the wall.  There are a number of limitations on these brackets but if properly installed they can reduce the likelihood of range tipping.

In a suit involving range tipping the obvious defendants are the product manufacturer, the retailer, the installer and, if in an appartment, then the landlord.  There may be some difficulty identifying the actual manufacturer although this can be determined by getting the identification number on the UL label which will then permit identification of the entity that submitted the product to UL for testing.

Claims against landlords and management companies may be based on the theory of a failure to insure proper installation or retrofitting of these stoves.  The Institute of Real Estate Management has provided some standards in regards to these products.

It may be necessary to retain a competent engineer with knowledge of safety engineering to act as an expert witness as to how these stoves and ranges should have been installed.

The concept of post-sale duty to warn of defects is something that also needs to be considered.  The National Safety Council has published a protocol recommending when a company should issue post-sale notices.  Likewise, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a Recall Handbook that was published that may be helpful in understanding when post-sale notices should be given.

Product Defect Claims In the Home-Hydrocarbon Refrigerators

Refrigerators currently sold in the United States either have freon in them or have hydrofluorocarbon in them as a refrigerant.  Freon is an ozone depleting substance when it enters the atmosphere.  Hydrofluorocarbon, on the other hand, presents problems as far as global warming in that it remains in the atmosphere for decades absorbing radiation that would otherwise be released into space.Hydrocarbon refrigerators, on the other hand, are cooled by carbon and hydrogen and these natural refrigerants do not degrade the ozone and are easily broken down by the sun thereby posing no global warming hazard.There are however some product liability issues relating to these type of refrigerators that product liability lawyers should be sensitive to. 

The hydrocarbons in these new refrigerators pose some potential hazard in that hydrocarbons are flammable and there have been some isolated incidents of exploding hydrocarbon refrigerators. 

General Electric plans to sell their first hydrocarbon household refrigerators in the U. S. in June of 2011.  The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet given their approval to these refrigerators but that is anticipated.  In 1994 the Environmental Protection Agency had ruled that hydrocarbon refrigerants were too risky to be used in household refrigerators.  It appears that will change.  Hydrocarbons are already found in many household appliances and substances such as gas stoves, furnaces, bathroom cleaners and air fresheners. 

For more information on product liability see the pages on Wikipedia.

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Contact Us For A Free Consultation

Product Liability Claims Around The Home

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Addresses Product Liability Claims Around the Home

Brien Roche

Product Liability Claims Around the Home-Burn Injuries

Burn injuries around the home are a common phenomenon.  The products that may be the source of the burn are varied:

  • household furniture
  • mattresses or mattress pads
  • electronic toys
  • lighters
  • stoves

Household furniture that is cushioned with polyurethane foam may be a time bomb.  This is a petroleum based product that has some of the same combustion characteristics as gasoline.  In addition, this type of foam consumes oxygen as it burns thereby further endangering the occupants.  It is commercially feasible to make furniture reasonably safe at a reasonable cost.  Furniture covering material is available that will act as a fire retardant.  Fire barrier materials that are designed to go between the fabric and the highly flammable foam have been produced for decades.  In addition, the potentially combustible material may be treated with fire retardants.

It is well known that furniture may be exposed to small ignition sources around the house.  In light of that manufacturers have a duty to design their products without defects in contemplation of those foreseeable uses and misuses.

Other products such as mattresses and mattress pads, electronic toys, and lighters are all subject to federal regulations.  Those regulations may be the source of certain standards to establish liability.

Household stoves that have a opening oven door that is low enough to the floor for a child to climb on may present a hazard of tipping with resulting serious injury.  Both the American National Standards Institute and Underwriter’s Laboratory have issued standards to deal with this issue.

In looking at burn injury cases there are several things to be considered:

  • There are several governmental and non-governmental agencies that may be the source of certain standards such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology which is a governmental agency, the U. S. Fire Administration which is another governmental agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, another governmental agency.  The National Fire Protection Association and the National Association of State Fire Marshalls are both private agencies but they have conducted extensive testing relating to fires.
  • Evidence of a recall notice is compelling evidence and may be admissible at trial on the theory that it shows that the defect existed when the product was in the manufacturer’s hands.
  • The manufacturer may contend that it should not be held liable on the grounds that the plaintiff is an unintended user.  In general, the intended use of a product includes any use that is reasonably foreseeable to the seller.  A particular use may be considered foreseeable even if the precise manner in which the injury occurred was not.
  • The burning characteristics of the product should be fully developed by showing the rate of heat release, temperatures at various locations in the product, the way in which smoke, carbon monoxide and other by-products are generated and the rate at which oxygen is consumed.

Product Liability Claims In The Home-Smoke Detectors

Smoke detector defects can lead to the death or injury of all of the occupants of a residence. This is the type of product liability claim that should never arise. Smoke detectors fall into categories of either ionization or photoelectric smoke detectors.  The vast majority are ionization detectors.  The ionization detectors emit a beam of  ions in a chamber and when the smoke enters the chamber the smoke particles obstruct the flow of ions thereby causing a reduction of current flow and thereby activating the alarm. 

Photoelectric detectors emit a beam of light into a chamber and when the smoke particles enter the chamber and interfere with the beam the alarm is activated.

Typically, ionization detectors respond more quickly to the presence of numerous small particles of smoke such as those produced by by a flaming or fast fire.  Photoelectric detectors, on the other hand, usually respond more quickly to larger particles such as those produced by a smoldering or a slower spreading fire.

The time frame between the activation of a photoelectric detector and the activation of an ionization detector can be considerable.  Typically, the photoelectric detectors tend to give an earlier warning.

In any fire case involving a potentially faulty smoke detector it is critical that the detector itself be obtained or that at least its security be maintained.  It is also important of course to know who else is conducting any inspections of the smoke detector. 

The thrust of any such case involving an alleged smoke detector is that a timely warning from a  properly designed and functioning detector would have prevented injury or at least limited the injury to something minor. 

Product Liability-Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are almost universal.  You find them in cell phones, laptop computers and a host of consumer devices.  The primary reason that Smart Phones are as thin as they are is because of these types of batteries.  There are believed to be more than 4 billion such batteries that were made simply during the year 2012.  It has been discovered however, that they can pose a danger in that they may explode or catch on fire spontaneously.  They are supposed to shut down rather than causing a fire.  The problem is that the separator that separates the positive cathode from the negative anode sometimes can be broken, which can then allow contact between the negative and positive layers which generates a great deal of heat causing the electrolyte solution within the battery to expand rapidly and then either ignite or explode.  The battery is like most batteries in that it has a positive cathode and a negative anode and the electricity is generated by the electrons or, more precisely, the negative ions passing through the separator to the positive side.  As long as this is done in the anticipated controlled fashion, then all that is generated is electricity. 

It is believed that batteries carried in cargo planes were the potential causes of two fatal crashes in recent years according to the Airline Pilot Association International. 

Model airplane hobbyists are also users of these types of batteries to allow prolonged flight for their model airplanes, have long known that these types of batteries explode frequently upon impact.

Drop Side Cribs

On December 15, 2010 the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously to ban the manufacture, sale and resale of cribs which have a side rail that moves up and down. The product liability hazard was simply too great.  The purpose of such a side rail is to allow parents to more easily lift the child from the crib.  The problem with the side rail is typically an assembly problem which can lead to the drop side rail partially detaching from the crib creating a V-like gap between the mattress and the side rail where the baby can get caught and potentially suffocate or strangle. 

This new standard published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission will take effect in June of 2011 and will prohibit hotels and child care centers from using drop-side cribs although these facilities would have two years to purchase new cribs.The new regulation however puts facilities on notice of the hazard and as such they would be well advised to discontinue use of such cribs immediately rather than waiting two years.

Bunk Bed Entrapment

Bunk bed entrapment of a small child can result in serious injury or death.  The space between the bed frame and the guardrail on some bunk beds is large enough for a child’s body to slip through but not for the head sometimes resulting in the child in effect hanging to death.  This product liability issue is being addressed by some manufacturers.It is well known that children over the age of one begin trying to climb out of their beds.  With their new found mobility and lack of judgment they are excellent candidates for entrapment in bunk beds.  The standard across the industry typically is that children of that age should not be put on the top bed of a bunk bed. 

Certain standards over the years have been published by a number of different private and public organizations such as the American Furniture Manufacturers Association (AFMA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Society for Testing and Materials.  All of these are important sources to check in terms of establishing standards in regards to bunk beds.

In handling cases of this nature there are several things that are critical:

  • Get possession of the bed.
  • Measure the bed and photograph the bed and videotape the process of taking such measurements.
  • Check any labeling on the bed to identify the manufacturer and the date of manufacture.
  • Locate the retailer since there may be allegations made by the manufacturer that the retailer made some modifications to the bed. 
  • Get a copy of any 911 calls that were placed relating to the incident along with a copy of any pertinent governmental reports.

Stove Range Defects

Stove range defects are a hidden hazard in many homes and apartments thereby giving rise to product liability claims.  A serious hazard that many consumers simply are not aware of is that of range tipping.  If a range tips as a result of a child putting weight on an open door, then that typically results in burns from the forward tipping range.  Many ranges are inherently unstable when their oven door is open.  Once that door is open then it is  typically low enough for a child to climb on.  That forward tipping can be initiated by a weight of 30 pounds or less.

Underwriters Laboratories has published certain standards to prevent tipping.  This has required manufacturers to develop certain anti-tipping brackets to secure ranges to either the floor or the wall.  There are a number of limitations on these brackets but if properly installed they can reduce the likelihood of range tipping.

In a suit involving range tipping the obvious defendants are the product manufacturer, the retailer, the installer and, if in an appartment, then the landlord.  There may be some difficulty identifying the actual manufacturer although this can be determined by getting the identification number on the UL label which will then permit identification of the entity that submitted the product to UL for testing.

Claims against landlords and management companies may be based on the theory of a failure to insure proper installation or retrofitting of these stoves.  The Institute of Real Estate Management has provided some standards in regards to these products.

It may be necessary to retain a competent engineer with knowledge of safety engineering to act as an expert witness as to how these stoves and ranges should have been installed.

The concept of post-sale duty to warn of defects is something that also needs to be considered.  The National Safety Council has published a protocol recommending when a company should issue post-sale notices.  Likewise, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a Recall Handbook that was published that may be helpful in understanding when post-sale notices should be given.

Product Defect Claims In the Home-Hydrocarbon Refrigerators

Refrigerators currently sold in the United States either have freon in them or have hydrofluorocarbon in them as a refrigerant.  Freon is an ozone depleting substance when it enters the atmosphere.  Hydrofluorocarbon, on the other hand, presents problems as far as global warming in that it remains in the atmosphere for decades absorbing radiation that would otherwise be released into space.Hydrocarbon refrigerators, on the other hand, are cooled by carbon and hydrogen and these natural refrigerants do not degrade the ozone and are easily broken down by the sun thereby posing no global warming hazard.There are however some product liability issues relating to these type of refrigerators that product liability lawyers should be sensitive to. 

The hydrocarbons in these new refrigerators pose some potential hazard in that hydrocarbons are flammable and there have been some isolated incidents of exploding hydrocarbon refrigerators. 

General Electric plans to sell their first hydrocarbon household refrigerators in the U. S. in June of 2011.  The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet given their approval to these refrigerators but that is anticipated.  In 1994 the Environmental Protection Agency had ruled that hydrocarbon refrigerants were too risky to be used in household refrigerators.  It appears that will change.  Hydrocarbons are already found in many household appliances and substances such as gas stoves, furnaces, bathroom cleaners and air fresheners. 

For more information on product liability see the pages on Wikipedia.

Contact Us For A Free Consultation

Contact Us For A Free Consultation