Degrees of Burns
Walker Morgan LLC
ATTORNEYS AT LAW
Infant Burned by Fryer Settles Claim for $2.5M
A Sumter County child who was 6 months old when an electric deep fryer fell and scalded him with cooking oil will receive the lion’s share of a $2.5 million settlement against the manufacturer. [Infant] Myers, now 3, will get about $2.1 million in what plaintiff’s lawyers characterized as an unusually fast resolution of a products liability case. About $400,000 will go to his mother who also suffered burns.
Speeding the settlement – and clearing the liability impasse – were tests that convinced both parties that the fryer’s power cord was defective, said lawyers for the plaintiff. “We settled early on in the litigation,” said attorney Kirk Morgan of Lexington. “Independently, I had an engineering firm examine the fryer and the wire and concurred that it was defective. And that took place before any formal discovery.” The case settled on August 3, 2010 is Myers v. Continental Electric, et al., C.A. No. 2009-CP-43-2321. Circuit Judge George C. James presided.
The accident happened in January 2008, when the infant, who was in a walker, grabbed the cord and pulled on it while his mother was readying the fryer for cooking. The fryer toppled off a kitchen counter, showering him with scalding oil, according to the complaint.
He suffered second- and third-degree burns to his lower back and legs, Morgan said. The burns covered about 20 percent of his body. The plaintiff sued the manufacturer, Florida-based Continental Electric, and related companies for negligence, breach of express and implied warranties and violation of the S.C. Defective Products Act, according to an October 2009 complaint. He sought actual and punitive damages.
As the case proceeded, the plaintiff came to contend that the cord violated a federal standard, which his lawyers uncovered by scanning legal databases for similar cases, Thomas said.At one point the plaintiff demanded $5 million, Morgan said.
In their answer, the defendants denied liability, contending among other things, that the mother was negligent. That the fryer was plugged into an extension cord, making it easier for the baby to grab the cord, was another simmering defense issue, said Brady Thomas, a Barnwell lawyer who also represented the plaintiff. “We were lucky that we, through our research had discovered the standard,” he said. Underwriter Laboratories, Inc., Safety Standard 1083, adopted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, requires electrical fryers to have “break-away” cords that detach at 1/20th of the force needed to pull a fryer off a counter. The cord of the fryer at issue didn’t meet the standard, Morgan said.
But after an engineer for Continental and an expert for the plaintiff ran similar tests on the power cord, they agreed that it was malfunctioning, said Thomas, who was present at the engineer’s test.
The engineer filled the fryer with water, set it up as it was at the time of the accident and pulled on the cord with a scale, Thomas said. The fryer fell over and spilled water. “He did that, like, four times and just looked at me and said, ‘It’s not supposed to do this,’” Thomas said. The parties mediated the question of compensation with a speed that Morgan said was “extraordinarily unusual.”
“They asked for early mediation of the case, and we agreed. It went from there,” Morgan said. The child’s injuries would have been worse if his mother, a nurse, had failed to keep her head and act quickly. She scooped up the baby, ran into a bathroom and doused him in cold water in a bathtub, suffering burns from the oil on the child, Thomas said. The child has undergone 13 surgeries, including skin grafts, and will face more as he grows up. Lawyers said a life care estimate called for $1.5 million.
“At the end of the day, there was no way around the fact that, had the thing worked as designed, regardless of whether it was hooked up to an extension cord of not, it would have detached,” Thomas said. *