When someone is hurt or killed in a tragic accident involving winter weather dangers like fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a car crash, it is always a heart-wrenching event for everyone, especially when the accident happens during the holiday season. The cold temperatures, along with ice, snow, and storm conditions during the winter months here in Indiana and Illinois create special types of dangers and risks of injuries and accidents (see our previous post).
Winter Accidents: Dangerous Products
Many of these dangers involve products. Things like space heaters, barbecue grills, ovens, stoves, gas appliances, carbon monoxide monitors, smoke detectors, car tires, car brakes, candles, toys, – the list goes on and on.
The federal and state governments try to keep watch over products sold and used here in the United States. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, for example, is dedicated to protecting folk from being injured by a dangerous product.
When you (or a loved one) is hurt because of a product, then you may have legal claims to assert against the maker, manufacturer, distributor, repair technician, maintenance company, and other parties who may be legally responsible for the risks associated with that product or device. This can be based upon the individual product being flawed or failing or it can be based upon a design flaw in all products of that kind or type.
Product Liability and Dangerous Products
When there’s a flaw in the design or type of a product or device, it is a huge problem because so many people are in danger of being hurt. This is why there are laws requiring companies to recall their defective products when dangers are discovered.
And if they fail to recall those products, then there are criminal and civil penalties on the books that can be assessed against them. Separately, injured parties can sue for damages under product liability laws, sometimes joining together in a “class action” against the manufacturer.
Product liability cases where the product design itself has a dangerous flaw or weakness include the following examples:
1. In July 2015, a maximum civil penalty of $1.825 million was to be paid by manufacturing company LG for not reporting its defective line of dehumidifiers. These products overheated, melted, and caught on fire resulting in 107 accidents and over $7,000,000 in property damage.
2. In August 2015, a civil penalty of $3 million was to be paid by Johnson Health Tech for not reporting its fitness equipment products, like elliptical trainers, that were short circuiting and catching on fire.
3. In November 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association fined Takata a record penalty of $200 Million for dangerous air bags which are estimated to be installed in over 23.4 million vehicles here in the United States (go here to see the full list of vehicles to see if your car, van, or truck is on the list).
Accidents Where a Product Is Involved
However, many serious winter accidents involving a product will not be connected to one of these design defects. Instead, the danger will be the result of that particular device, in how it was used or maintained. This does not mean that there is not legal liability upon which damage claims can be based for these product-related accidents.
An investigation of the accident itself may well reveal that someone’s mistake or neglect caused the accident and forms the basis of a liability claim. Here, an individual claim based upon state personal injury law is pursued against those responsible for the accident.
Liability claims in these situations can include the following, as examples:
1. Car accidents where tires or brakes were not properly maintained or checked before the accident. If you are involved in a serious car accident here in Indiana or Illinois, and the investigation of the accident reveals that the other driver was driving a car, truck, minivan, or SUV with thread-bare tires, or tires that were under-inflated or over-inflated, then he cannot point to the product and blame the tire. “It wasn’t my fault, the tire blew!” is not a valid defense to an injury claim. Drivers are responsible for the vehicle that they choose to take on the road. If the tire caused the driver to lose control, this explains what happened but it doesn’t excuse it.
2. Hotel, inn, or cabin rental guests that are seriously harmed or killed by carbon monoxide leaking from a gas heater, a gas stove, or other gas appliance. If there was an unknown danger in an appliance at a guest rental in Indiana or Illinois, and someone is hurt, then the tragedy isn’t something that the hotel operator or cabin rental owner can dismiss by blaming the product itself. Just because the owner or operator didn’t know about the flaw in the appliance doesn’t excuse the hotel owner or operator from responsibility — there is a legal duty on their part to make sure the rentals are safe, and that includes being safe from carbon monoxide fumes.
3. Space heaters in a day care center or senior facility may seem like a kind thing to provide because elders and young children are often more vulnerable to cold drafts and possible flus and colds as a result. However, if the caretakers are not careful with those space heaters and a curtain or rug or tablecloth catches fire, then blaming the space heater will not block legal liability for the injuries that result to fire victims.
30th Annual Holiday Toy Report from PIRG
For 30 years now, the Public Interest Research Group (”PIRG”) has released its study of dangerous toys being sold in the United States just in time for Christmas. You can read this year’s news release here regarding their 2015 Trouble in Toyland report. Get online details here on their list of the 22 Potentially Hazardous Toys, which includes products made by companies like Disney and Fisher Price.
Winter weather here in Indiana and Illinois can be very severe and dangerous. People get hurt both at home and at work or school in accidents tied directly to the winter conditions. Be Careful Out There!