A Californian jury has awarded a family compensation for injuries due to heater safety failings following a fire at their home which a woman died.
On 5th January 2011, Kenneth and Amy Shinedling were sleeping in the master bedroom of their home in Piñon Hills, Los Angeles, when a fire started in the room. Kenneth escaped from the fire with minor burn injuries and was able to rescue the couple´s three children, but Amy died from severe burns and the inhalation of toxic fumes.
An investigation into the cause of the fire discovered that the automatic safety switch on the couple´s Sunbeam quartz-style space heater had failed to operate when bedding had come within three feet of the heater, and it was this heater safety failing which had caused the fire to start.
Kenneth and his three children claimed compensation for burn injuries due to heater safety failings for their own injuries and for Amy´s wrongful death. In their action it was claimed that no warnings were given against leaving the heater on all night and that the heater failed the consumer expectation test for design defect and failed the risk-benefit test for design defect.
Sunbeam Products denied their product was responsible for causing Amy´s death and the family´s injuries and argued that the Shinedlings were at fault for allowing bedding to get within three feet of the heater. The company claimed that more than 10 million of their heaters had been sold without any other report of a serious fire.
The claim for compensation for burn injuries due to heater safety failings went to the United States Central District Court in Los Angeles, where it was heard by a jury before Judge Cormac Carney. During the six-day hearing, the jury heard a Sunbeam safety engineer testified that the automatic safety switch had a known fault.
After two days of deliberations, the jury found that Sunbeam’s heater failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected it to and found 80% in the Shinedling family´s favor. They awarded Kenneth and his three children a total of $46.92 million compensation for burn injuries due to heater safety failings to account for their own personal injuries and the loss of Amy Shinedling as a wife and mother.