Malfunctioning Products And Wrongful Deaths

We have read in the Atlanta newspapers this week about the tragic death of three people who died in a house fire in Palmetto, Georgia, which according to news reports was started by “an oxygen generating device that malfunctioned.” Although the news articles do not provide sufficient information to determine how this was concluded, the spokesperson quoted was from the State Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner’s Office. It appears, therefore, that the tragic fire which resulted in the three wrongful deaths was caused by a malfunctioning product, which shorted out somehow and caused the blaze resulting in these three tragic deaths.
Our firm in the past has handled a similar wrongful death case where a young boy died in a house fire also caused by a malfunctioning product. In that case, the product was also an oxygen generating device that had malfunctioned due to a short in it. The device caught fire and the young boy could not escape his room before being killed. In that particular case, the young boy also suffered from disabilities which made it difficult for him to escape the fire once it started. (As we read the article currently being circulated in the Atlanta area, at least one, if not more, of the three people killed in the fire which occurred in Palmetto, Georgia were also apparently disabled.)
These cases are very difficult to prove because many times the fire destroys the evidence. It appears that the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner’s Office did a good investigation of this case because they may have preserved the malfunctioning unit. In the referenced case we handled, the malfunctioning unit was not fully preserved but enough parts of it were such that they could be examined by experts. In that case, it turned out that the product was known to malfunction by the manufacturer and had actually been recalled some several months before the incident due to its dangerous propensities.

Because a fire scene is altered by the fire and also by the water that is used to put out the fire, it is imperative that copies of the investigative report be obtained as soon as possible and also that experts in the field be dispatched to the scene when there is evidence of a malfunctioning product, as here. Because of the destruction of the scene by the fire and the water, the cases can be difficult to establish but nonetheless, if the evidence is secured in a timely manner, the cause of the blaze can be established through experts in the field.
We are hopeful that the victims of this unfortunate tragedy are compensated if it is proven that their lives were lost due to a malfunctioning product. As is the case in any product liability litigation, when a wrongful death occurs from a malfunctioning product, the manufacturer of the product should be held strictly liable for the damages caused by the defective product.

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