Fires Caused by Negligence Can Kill | News | HMG LLP


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August 31, 2017

In December of 2010, two days before Christmas, Frank Wright was busy readying his home to receive family for the Holidays in Chesapeake, Virginia. He was working on the yard using his Ryobi riding lawnmower. It was something Frank, age 88, loved to do. While he depended on a walker to get around and sometimes struggled, he nonetheless found ways to remain active. For the past five years, using his Ryobi riding lawnmower was one of the ways in which he continued to enjoy an active life.

While Frank rode around his backyard, his Ryobi riding lawnmower suddenly caught on fire near the engine, just a few inches from where he sat on the mower's seat, as reported by ABC's 13News Now in Virginia. Almost instantly, Frank was engulfed in the blaze. In a desperate attempt to save his own life, Frank crawled some 20 feet. His wife could do little more than watch as the fire consumed Frank's body. Within seconds, the fire took the life of the man with whom she spent 67 years.

After the accident firefighters could not figure out what started the fire. Years would pass before the true cause of the blaze would surface in a courtroom.

In December of 2012, Frank's family filed a products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer and seller of the riding lawnmower, Ryobi Technologies, Inc. and Home Depot USA, Inc., among others. The suit alleged that the companies were negligent in designing a defective product and in failing to take corrective measures to fix the defect once it had been discovered.

An investigation revealed that the riding lawnmower had a loose connection between its fuel line and fuel tank. This defect allowed the fuel line to slip off and spill fuel, creating a severe risk of fire. The companies would argue that they were not negligent and that the fire was in fact caused by poor maintenance and improper use by Frank.

Not only did the manufacture deny any responsibility for Frank's death, it went as far as hiding its knowledge of other fires caused by the same model Ryobi riding lawnmower, probably in an effort to avoid a recall. Two days before trial, the manufacturers disclosed evidence of a similar fire, which happened five months before Frank's death. Had Ryobi notified the Consumer Product Safety Commission about the known risks of fire, perhaps Frank's life might have been spared.

The very expert that testified on behalf of the company during trial—asserting that it knew of no other fires caused by Ryobi riding lawnmowers—was the same expert that had investigated the Ryobi fire five months before Frank's death. Because of this cover-up, the court issued sanctions against the company.

A jury ultimately found Ryobi was responsible for the fire. It awarded Frank's family $2.5 million.

Despite Frank's tragic death, the jury's verdict and its knowledge of other Ryobi lawnmower fires, the manufacturer continues to deny its negligence, telling 13News Now that, "It continues to be defendant's position that this tractor was properly designed, manufactured and sold."

Approximately 150,000 residential fires occur each year as a result of major home appliances, resulting in some 150 deaths, 3,670 injuries, and $547 million dollars in property damage, according to The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC estimates that, while human error can certainly play a role, about half of these fires can be linked to some product defect. According to data from the CPSC, in the last five years, more than 15 million appliance units have been recalled for defects that could cause a fire, and 1,942 fire incidents have been reported.

When tragedy strikes, it is important that you seek competent legal help in order to determine the true cause of the fire and to hold those responsible accountable. The attorneys at Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales, LLP have a proven track record of bringing those at fault to justice, from oil & gas companies, manufacturers of defective products, irresponsible drivers, negligent landlords, and others.

While we cannot bring back a loved one lost in a fire or heal your injuries, we can help to evaluate your losses, prove your damages and develop a strong claim to compensate you for your loss and damages. If you or a loved one was injured or killed during a fire, which may have been caused by another's negligence, give us a call at 800-334-3298 or click here. We are here to help you. 

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