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House Fires from Defective Products

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has just released its latest statistics for 2010 fire losses in the United States.  The NFPA is an international nonprofit entity, established in 1896, whose mission “is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.”

Unfortunately, 2,640 people were killed in house fires last year, an increase of 2.9% from 2009.  Injuries from fires also increased last year by 3.9% to 17,720.  Even more unfortunate is the fact that the southern U.S. is most at risk for home fires and death or injury from home fire.  The risk is higher in small communities in the South.  In fact, southern rural communities have the highest fire incident death rate in the U.S.

The report does not provide research or data regarding the major causes of fires, but the NFPA has provided prior reports on the major causes of house fires.  Their research identifies:  electrical products, electrical wiring or wiring components, upholstery, and smoke alarms (either a lack of them or defective alarms).

This research is entirely consistent with what our attorneys have seen in the real world.  We’ve handled cases involving defective electrical appliances, such as water heaters, dishwashers, window air-conditioning/heater units, and numerous other defective appliances, smoke alarms, wiring components, upholstered furniture, and the like.  These cases have resulted in settlements of millions of dollars on behalf of the families we represented.

The purpose of these cases, though, is not simply to get justice for the loss of a family member.  It’s to bring attention to defects that need to be corrected to prevent future harm.  Sometimes, only a sizeable jury verdict or settlement will get the attention of a manufacturer and cause it to change its ways.  Thankfully, the NFPA is also focusing on ways to reduce deaths and injuries from fires.  It says its “five major strategies” are:

First, more widespread public fire safety education is needed on how to prevent fires and how to avoid serious injury or death if fire occurs. Information on the common causes of fatal home fires should continue to be used in the design of fire safety education messages. Second, more people must use and maintain smoke detectors and develop and practice escape plans. Third, wider use of residential sprinklers must be aggressively pursued. Fourth, additional ways must be sought to make home products more fire safe. The regulations requiring more childresistant lighters are a good example, as are requirements for cigarettes, with reduced ignition strength (generally called ―fire-safe‖ cigarettes). The wider use of upholstered furniture and mattresses that are more resistant to cigarette ignitions is an example of change that has already accomplished much and will continue to do more. Fifth, the special fire safety needs of high-risk groups, e.g., the young, older adults, and the poor need to be addressed.

No one wants to be involved in a house fire.  It is one of the most terrifying experiences ever.  Hopefully, the efforts mentioned above will reduce deaths and injuries from house fires.

Edwin Lamberth

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