In 2011, the Smith family leased a water dispenser designed and manufactured by IGO, a Malaysian company, and distributed by NWNA, one of the country’s leading suppliers of water coolers. It was equipped with both hot and cold spigots on the front of the unit. The hot spigot incorporated a child-resistant design which required a pinching movement that would be difficult for children to perform. However, the unprotected rear of the dispenser provided easy access to the hot water reservoir, which maintained a “target” temperature of at least 185 degrees. Unlike the child-resistant safety spigot on the front of the product, the scalding hot water in the rear tank could be released by a simple turn and pull of the plastic drain plug. No warnings or instructions described the easy-to-remove drain plug on the hot water tank or the torrent of hot water that would be released by the removal of the readily accessible plug.
In 2014, a young child in California suffered severe burns when she removed the same drain plug from the same model water dispenser that had been installed in the Smith home. Despite having notice of the California incident just days after it occurred, Defendant NWNA inexplicably delayed for several years before undertaking a safety improvement project to redesign the drain plug assembly to make it much more difficult for a child to remove. Even though the improved plastic drain plug was incorporated into current model water dispensers at no additional cost to NWNA or its customers, the new and much safer design plug assembly was not made available to homeowners who had existing dispensers with the unsafe design, nor were warnings furnished about the potential for the release of burning hot water by simply twisting and pulling out the older model drain plug.
On December 18, 2018, the Smiths’ son, who was just a toddler, was at home with his older sisters. The little boy walked behind the dispenser and pulled out the unguarded, unsecured drain plug from the hot water tank, releasing a cascade of scalding hot water over much of his body. The extensive second and third-degree burns he sustained have required repeated surgical procedures and skin grafting causing excruciating pain and leaving the child with severe scaring of his torso and upper and lower extremities, in addition to extreme emotional issues arising from his traumatic burn injuries.
Litigation was commenced against NWNA in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Following extensive discovery, including depositions of the defendant’s executives and managers responsible for the water dispensing equipment, and just weeks before the commencement of trial, a mediation was conducted before the Honorable Diane Welsh (Ret.) of JAMS. At the conclusion of the mediation, the claims of minor plaintiff, together with the negligent infliction of emotional distress claims of his sisters, were settled for the sum of $48,000.000. The amount recovered is believed to be one of the largest settlements for injury to a child caused by a defective product in American history. The family was represented by Feldman Shepherd partners Alan M. Feldman, Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis.
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