A study conducted from 2003 to 2013 by the National Institute of Health (NIH) revealed that there were 53,636 space heater-related thermal burn injuries in that time frame. Many of these injuries occurred, as one would expect, during the winter months. In January of 2018, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued a release stating that “heating equipment is the second-leading cause of U.S. home fires and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths…. Between 2011 and 2015, portable and stationary space heaters accounted for more than two of every five (43 percent) U.S. home heating fires and five out of six (85 percent) home heating fire deaths.”
These organizations hope that their studies can contribute to strategies to reduce the number of burn injuries.
Who’s responsible for space heater damage?
Space heater fires can alter lives forever. Victims often must cope with unsightly scars and constant pain. Some burn injury victims need to have skin grafts and plastic surgery. The fires can also cause extensive property damage, including the loss of a home or office.
The people and businesses responsible include manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of defective space heaters. Sadly, some companies place profit before safety. The makers and those who profit from the sale of space heaters are in the best position to make their space heaters safe. They should be held liable if their space heaters weren’t designed properly (were able to catch fire too easily), were made improperly or without sub-standard parts, or the instructions were not clear.
The instructions should be simple to understand regarding use and maintenance. Instructions should clarify where the space heaters can be used and where they can’t. For example, space heaters should be a safe distance away from combustible materials. (Per the NFPA, “More than half (53 percent) of all home heating fire deaths resulted from fires that began when heating equipment was too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding.”)
Anyone involved in the supply chain can be held liable, including parts manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Anyone who fails to follow clear instructions on proper use of space heaters can be held liable for any damage that ensues to neighboring offices, homes, or businesses.
Liability for a defective space heater
Liability is generally based on three legal theories:
- Defects. The main requirements are to show the product was defect and the defect is what caused death or injury. Responsible parties are held strictly liable which means there’s no need to prove fault.
- Breach of warranty. Sellers of products generally warrant that their products will be safe for their intended use.
- Failure to warn. If there is a potential for injury – say, by using a space heater right next to the foot of the bed – the manufacturer has a duty to issue a warning against such actions.
In addition to filing a personal injury claim against any wrongdoers, homeowners and businesses also have the right to file a claim against their insurance policies for the property damages. Business policies may also include damages for lost profits and business interruption. If the insurance company doesn’t pay the property damage claim by using bad faith tactics, such as denying valid claims or improper delays, a tort action for bad faith can be asserted.
At Plattner Verderame, P.C., we work with product safety inspectors, fire experts, and others to help show your harm was the fault or responsibility of others. Our Phoenix product liability lawyers fight aggressively to help you get compensation for your pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and other damages. To schedule a free consultation, please phone us at 602.783.8793 or fill out our contact form.