A portable computer begins to smoke, then explodes while it is in use. An air fryer destroys a kitchen. A badly wired toy catches fire as a child plays with it. All of these things have happened more than once in the past decade, and some of these fires have caused injuries or deaths. One OSHA report found 25,000 overheating or fire incidents due to battery-powered products alone.
When people get burned by products that they trusted, the results can be disastrous. Burn injuries can lead to permanent disfigurement, long-term disabilities, infections, and death. And if the fire destroyed property as well, the burn victim and their family have an even harder road to recovery. Fires can result in:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages and/or earning opportunities
- Catastrophic loss of homes, cars, and personal property
- Expenses for alternate housing or transportation following those losses
What can a consumer do if they have encountered something that started a fire like this?
Product Liability Law in Georgia
Product liability is the area of law that deals with injuries and property damage caused by defective items. Under Georgia law, a manufacturer will be liable if someone was injured by a product that was defective—”not merchantable and reasonably suited to the use intended”—at the time it was sold. It does not matter if the injured person did not buy the product themselves, as some older laws held. See O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11.
There are three types of defects recognized in Georgia products liability law:
- Manufacturing defects: failures in construction that render the individual product unsafe
- Design defects: unsafe designs that could not perform as warranted
- Warning defects: failures to warn about risk or to instruct on safe usage
If the product was defective when it was sold, the manufacturer will be strictly liable for bodily injuries it caused. That means that it cannot avoid judgment by showing that it was not negligent when it produced the item. If an injured person used a defective product as intended and that product injured them, the manufacturer must pay damages, and in most cases the plaintiff will not need to prove negligence.
However, the manufacturer has several defenses to raise in court. The most obvious is the claim that the product was not in fact defective when it was manufactured. They may assert that the product was damaged between the point of sale and the point of use or that the plaintiff caused the damage themselves. Some plaintiffs have failed to recover because they modified a product for their own usage—as when a heater exploded because its safety valve had been taped open (Argo v. Perfection Products Co., 730 F. Supp. 1109).
A manufacturer is also likely to assert that the plaintiff used their product in a way they never intended. To avoid liability for improper uses or for unintended side effects, manufacturers must place warnings for possible risks on the product. Moreover, manufacturers are not required to ensure that a product cannot be misused in a dangerous way.
Products that carry clear safety risks do not leave manufacturers liable for the accidents users can encounter by taking those risks. For example, Georgia courts have found that motorcycles and deep-fat fryers are both products that are inherently risky to use as intended. This is called the “open and obvious danger” defense.
Like other plaintiffs, the plaintiff must file within the statute of limitations: two years for personal injury or four years for property damage. But they must also file within the statute of repose. A statute of repose is a hard limit to lawsuits over the issue—in this case, ten years after the first sale of the defective item. This is intended to prevent manufacturers from having to guarantee their products indefinitely. Even so, an attorney may be able to show that the time limits were paused or did not apply to the particular case at hand.
The Next Steps After an Injury
A personal injury attorney can help you find out how to recover from a fire that a product started. Bring them evidence of the date of the purchase, together with photos of the fire scene and documentation of the injuries it caused. They can investigate and determine whether you have a case.
Most personal injury cases are settled out of court before going to trial, and corporations often carry insurance for product liability cases. Your attorney will work to recover a settlement that repays your damages. If necessary, they will file suit to defend your rights. However, lawsuits often require expert testimony and a deep understanding of what caused the product’s failure.
Choosing an attorney with experience in product liability cases is crucial.
Have you or a loved one encountered a product that caused a burn injury in Georgia? If so, contact a personal injury attorney today. At The Scott Pryor Law Group, you will not have to pay until we reach a settlement or a verdict in your favor. Our attorneys deal with insurance companies and corporate defendants every day, and we will fight to maximize your recovery. Call us at 678-325-3434 to schedule a consultation in our Gwinnett County office.