Heating and Air Conditioning Technician Fails to Recover for Burns Suffered When Capacitor Surges Our client was injured while in the scope of his employment as a heating and air conditioning technician. Plaintiff tried to jump-start a stalled AC unit with a capacitor manufactured by defendant. A power surge caused an explosion in the air conditioner’s compressor, and the resulting flames and hot compressed oil shot out of the unit 15 to 20 feet, striking Plaintiff.Plaintiff was hospitalized for nine days with first, second, and third-degree burns on his legs, arms, chest and face. The plaintiff’s medical expert testified that the burns left permanent scars on his legs, and further, that the skin damage and extensive scarring left him at increased risk for skin cancer.Plaintiff and his wife sued defendant, alleging products liability. The plaintiffs claimed that defendant’s capacitor caused the explosion and that the company was therefore liable for his injuries. Plaintiff also claimed that the capacitor kit contained no specific or general warnings of the possibility of explosions when the kit is hooked up to an AC unit. Plaintiff’s wife asserted a separate claim for loss of consortium. The plaintiff claimed that his injuries had forced him to miss three months of work, costing him $8,000 in lost wages. Plaintiff’s wife testified she spent three months providing daily care for her husband’s injuries. The plaintiffs sought an unspecified amount for pain and suffering, lost income, disfigurement and physical impairment.Defendant’s insurer Travelers Insurance Co. denied that the product was defective and refused to pay. Defense counsel claimed the packaging and the product was labeled with the information that it would “increase torque up to 600 percent,” and that a professional HVAC technician would be aware that this could result in an explosion. The defense claimed there were no more specific warnings because the kit was intended for use only by professional technicians. Considering that Plaintiff had approximately 25 years of experience as an HVAC technician, the defense contended, the information on the kit would have been sufficient to warn him of the possible danger.The Camden County Superior Court agreed, and the jury returned a defense verdict, finding that the warnings on the kit were adequate, and awarding the Plaintiff and his wife nothing for their losses.No Recovery When in Law Division When Burn Injury Is Covered by Worker’s Compensation
In March, plaintiff was employed as an assembly line worker in a Passaic factory when she suffered an injury on the job. She sustained a burn on her right hand, leaving a 4-inch scar. Plaintiff sued, alleging she was injured by hot machinery at the plant due to the defendant’s negligence. She was seeking an unspecified amount. Defense argued that Plaintiff’s alleged injuries were covered by worker’s compensation, and that the issue should be tried in worker’s compensation court. The Judge of the Monmouth County Superior Court agreed and ruled plaintiff’s alleged injuries were covered by worker’s compensation and dismissed the case.
Over $2 Million Awarded to Severely Burned Laborer- Pilot Light Started Fire
In May, a stove pilot light ignited as plaintiff, 18, applied lacquer to a living room floor. The flames engulfed Plaintiff and burned 57 percent of his body. Responders found Plaintiff with his pants burned off and skin dripping from his legs and arms. Plaintiff was in an induced coma for 50 days while physicians performed 47 skin graphs. He remained hospitalized for three months and accrued $1.6 million in medical bills. The defense did not contest the damages.
Plaintiff, a subcontractor, had been lacquering the floor for a new tenant in the building. A mattress and other items in front of the stove hid the pilot light. All parties agreed that the burns were causally related to the ignition of the pilot light. Plaintiff did not speak English and could not read the lacquer container’s warning.
Plaintiff sued the property owner, management company, and the flooring company. According to an expert on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), all defendants were responsible for the dangerous condition. All defendants denied liability, instead pointing fingers at each other, and arguing further that Plaintiff knew of the dangers associated with his work and thus assumed responsibility. All defendants argued that Plaintiff should have inspected the pilot light.
The case was arbitrated and the Plaintiff was awarded $4,000,000. Defendants appealed that award, and the case settled thereafter for $2,150,000.
Family Destroyed by Gas Heater Fire, Son 6, and Daughter 8, Only Survivors Say They’ll Use $8,000,000 Settlement to Start Charity for Burn Victims
A fire broke out in the apartment of the two young plaintiffs, brother and sister, who were 6 and 8 years old at the time. The fire started in a gas heater. Their parents died as a result of injuries sustained in the fire. Their brother also died in the fire. The two young children were the only survivors, and were raised by relatives and in foster homes.
The young girl suffered burns over 52% of her body and underwent 21 surgeries. She still has scars on her face, chest, hands and arms. Her brother escaped the fire but suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome, as well as smoke inhalation.
The children’s attorney sued the manufacturer of the gas heater, where they allege the fire started, on a products liability theory. They also sued the company that made a regulating valve that lacked an emergency shut-off switch, on a products liability theory. Additionally, plaintiffs sued the owners of the apartment building, and New Jersey PSE&G, alleging that one of its servicemen visited the building prior to the fire.
The parties, including insurers Home Insurance Company and Zurich, reached a total settlement of $8 million. The plaintiffs stated that they hope to use monies to start a charity to assist burn victims and assist in fire safety instruction. The charity will be called the Burn Action Network. The plaintiffs have already donated about $20,000 in medical equipment to assist burn victims in South America.
$31 Million for Driver of Stalled Vehicle Struck by Flatbed Tow Truck on Highway
Plaintiff was driving on Route 1 near the top of an overpass in Avenel. Plaintiff’s vehicle stalled in the center southbound lane of the roadway. Though the stationary car was visible for over 1,900 feet, a 13,500-pound flatbed tow truck rear-ended it at over 50 mph. At the time of the crash, the tow truck was responding to a call from a AAA member with a flat tire. The impact crushed and breached the car’s fuel tank. Plaintiff then was ejected from the vehicle and into a trail of burning gasoline. He sustained burns and other serious injuries.
Plaintiff suffered third-degree burns over 58% of his body, and spent 50 weeks in the hospital during the past six years, including an eight-month initial stay. The accident left Plaintiff with extensive facial disfigurement, bodily scarring, partial blindness, the complete loss of use of his left (non-dominant) hand, for which he still receives extensive treatment.
Plaintiff sued the tow truck driver; and tow truck company; the company which contracted with the tow truck company to provide emergency road service to AAA members, AAA Mid Atlantic Inc. (AAAMA); and AAAMA’s national parent organization, the American Automobile Association Inc. (AAA), alleging negligence and vicarious liability. Plaintiff also sued the company that manufactured and supplied the mobile data terminal (MDT) used for digital dispatching in the tow truck; and the company that was retained by AAAMA and served as a systems integrator and the developer of the software that was running on the MDT on the date of the accident. Against these defendants, Plaintiff alleged strict liability under a products liability theory (design defect and failure to warn). AAAMA also sued Ford Motor Co. as a third-party defendant, alleging claims under a products liability theory (design defect).
The plaintiff alleged that the AAA defendants negligently adopted practices requiring tow truck operators to use the MDT while driving and to respond to road service calls within 30 minutes of the call, which made the tow truck driver have to rush to get to disabled vehicles. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the crash was also caused by the driver’s need to take his eye off the road to read the MDT -provided by AAAMA and installed in the truck – that relayed information on road assistance calls. The suit alleged drivers were not properly trained in the use of the equipment by the AAA defendants. According to the investigating officer, the two truck driver was traveling perhaps as fast a 61 mph in a 50-mph zone when he began braking just 10 feet before hitting the Plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff further argued that the AAAMA was liable because the tow truck driver acted a servant and agent of AAAMA and argued that AAA was also liable because it endorsed usage of the MDT and encouraged AAAMA and its other auto clubs to implement the under-30-minute requirement.
Against the manufacturer of the MDT and the software designer, the plaintiff claimed that the companies designed a defective product for not providing an automatic disabling feature that would make the MDT inoperable while the tow truck was moving. The tow truck driver testified that he did not see the stationary vehicle because he was distracted by a call that had come into the MDT and was reading the MDT’s screen shortly before the crash. The plaintiff’s counsel alleged that these defendants failed to warn the drivers of the hazards associated with using the MDTs and that the drivers should have been properly trained by these defendants in the use of the equipment.
All defendants denied liability, arguing instead that Plaintiff was at least partially at fault because he failed to leave his car which was stopped in the middle of the highway.
AAAMA denied there was an under-30-minute requirement and contended that it had no agency relationship with the tow truck company, pointing to a provision in the parties’ contract which designated the tow truck company as an independent contractor. AAAMA contended that it had no control over the tow truck company’s conduct, noting that the tow truck company had right to hire and fire who it hired or fired for its tow jobs.
The plaintiff’s counsel contended that AAAMA did indeed exercise a degree of control over the tow truck company, arguing that AAAMA determined the uniform appearance of the tow trucks and employee’s uniforms. The plaintiff’s counsel also contended that 95% of the tow truck company’s business originated from AAAMA under a preferred service member agreement and as a result the tow truck company was under the control of AAAMA because the tow company was not permitted to tow for another auto club.
AAA denied liability, contending that it did not control the auto clubs or these clubs’ dealings with independent contractors. AAA argued that while it may encourage certain policies such as the under-30-minute requirement, AAA argued that it did not require clubs to implement the policies in question.
The MDT manufacturer and software company defendants denied liability, contending that the MDT wasn’t defective and was not a proximate cause of the crash. They argued that the tow truck driver’s use of the machine was too far removed from the time of the crash. The defendants claimed that the driver had not been distracted by the MDT because he had stopped using MDT about three to four seconds before crash, and thus had enough time to avoid the collision. The three- to four-second figure was arrived at by defendant’s human factors experts based on the tow truck driver’s testimony that after he used the MDT, he had turned around to look behind his vehicle in response to cars honking, thinking there may have been a problem with his tow chain.
Plaintiff’s counsel countered that regardless, because of his use of the MDT, the driver’s “situational awareness” was compromised and he may have avoided the accident he not been initially distracted by the machine.
AAAMA also impleaded Ford Motor Co., alleging that the plaintiff’s vehicle contained an aft-of-axle fuel tank that was not crash worthy in rear-impact accidents. AAAMA was to call an engineer expert on the issues of fuel system design and crashworthiness to testify against Ford.
After eight weeks of trial, several parties settled the claims against them with the plaintiff for $31.25 million. Under the settlement, AAA Mid Atlantic carriers paid $27.25 million, the towing company’s carrier paid $2 million and the MDT’s carrier paid $2 million. AAAMA’s excess carrier contributed $750,000 of the $27.25 million contribution. After settlement, the jury trial continued against the remaining non-settling defendants. The jury was told which parties had settled (but was not privy to settlement amounts) and the jurors were instructed that they must assess responsibility of all parties, regardless of the settlement.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found the tow truck driver and the towing company at fault, AAAMA 14% at fault and Plaintiff 1% comparatively negligent. The jury found that AAA was negligent but that its negligence was not a proximate cause of the injury. The jury also determined that there was no cause of action against the MDT manufacturer, finding that the MDT was not defective and that plaintiff’s arguments as to a failure to warn were not a proximate cause of the accident.
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