We’re in the middle of a cold New England winter and for many of us, that means we’re suffering the ubiquitous head cold. Not surprisingly, young children are particularly susceptible as their attendance in school subjects them to throngs of other children, many of whom are infected with a virus.
As parents, we seek to do all that we can to alleviate the unpleasantness experienced by our children when they are ill. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that our well-meaning efforts don’t create a bigger problem. Unfortunately, some of the products we buy are not designed with safety in mind, and the devices we use to help our children can end up harming them.
For example, we recently represented a two-year-old girl who had previously developed symptoms of ordinary congestion. Her primary care doctor recommended she use a warm steam vaporizer. The girl’s parents purchased the defendant’s vaporizer, which contained warnings to keep the apparatus away from children. Even still, the parents placed the vaporizer on the child’s floor at bedtime.
The unit was equipped with a glowing orange night light that, the manufacturer advertised, promoted “safety.” The child unexpectedly woke in the middle of the night to notice a strange, glowing orange orb on her floor. When she approached closely to investigate, a burst of steam emanated from the vaporizer and scalded her face. She was left with a visible and permanent scar under her eye.
We hired an MIT engineer who tested the unit and opined that it emitted an exceedingly hot plume of steam which can disfigure upon only “momentary contact.” The expert also noted that the steam exhausted by the vaporizer should not have exceeded 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and should also have been equipped with a guard that would have diffused the scalding steam.
This device was not designed with personal safety in mind, and as a result, an innocent child was hurt. That’s the most heartbreaking aspect of product liability cases – the harm could easily be prevented if the company that made the device had just taken simple steps to ensure safety.
During several years of litigation, the manufacturer denied any responsibility only to ultimately settle the case with us for nearly $2 million.
The moral of the story is that sometimes products that we routinely purchase are not what they appear. Care must be taken to ensure that any such product can be used safely. This is particularly true if the product is being used around small children.