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$18.3 Million Settlement for Family in Philadelphia House Fire Case

In August 2010, attorneys Alan M. Feldman, Daniel Weinstock, and Daniel Mann reached an $18.275 million settlement in a product liability claim filed against Lakewood, the manufacturer of a portable electric heater that caused a house fire in a Philadelphia row house. The fire resulted in two fatalities, and one catastrophically injured infant. The case settled at an all-day mediation less than one month prior to trial. During the pendency of the case, the manufacturer filed for bankruptcy, leaving a total of $21 million in available insurance proceeds.

The evidence developed during discovery demonstrated that after the fire was discovered, 23-year-old Shereece Joseph rescued her 7-month-old brother Malachi by placing him on the front porch of the house. She then ran back into the burning house to try to save her 3-year-old brother Mikael and 9- month-old daughter Rhayanna. Shereece and Mikael died in the fire, and Rhayanna suffered disfiguring burns to most of her body as well as a brain injury caused by lack of oxygen.

During discovery, Feldman, Weinstock, and Mann uncovered documents that Lakewood sent to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which identified problems in the rotary switch that turned the heater on and off. After many days of laboratory testing, microscopic analysis and ignition testing, Feldman Shepherd attorneys and their experts developed proof that the fire was caused by the defective condition of both the rotary control switch and the high limit control, which is the primary safety device within the heater for prevention of overheating.

In response, Lakewood claimed that the fire was caused by combustibles placed too close to the heater, which was also the conclusion of the fire marshall who investigated the fire. Lakewood also asserted that of more than 160,000 units sold, there were no other claims or reports of fires occurring in this model heater. Finally, Lakewood argued that there were no signs of abnormal electrical activity in any of the components recovered from the fire, and relied upon its own testing which purportedly demonstrated that the switch and adjacent materials of the heater would not have ignited under plaintiffs’ theory of the case.

The settlement, which is the largest in Pennsylvania in 2010 to date and the 4th largest in Pennsylvania in the last five years, will allow Rhayanna to have the medical care and therapy she will require for the rest of her life.