Attorneys Mark W. Tanner and Peter M. Newman reached a confidential settlement for the parents of two young boys who died in a house fire caused by a defective clothes dryer. The case was hotly contested by the corporate defendant, which retained three law firms and six experts to fight the claim. The turning point in the case came when lawyers for the product manufacturer filed Daubert motions challenging the methodology of Plaintiffs’ dryer design experts as well as the methodology of Plaintiffs’ forensic pathologist, who had opined that the two boys were awake and experienced conscious pain and suffering before being overcome by smoke and heat. The court conducted a lengthy hearing at which attorneys Mark Tanner and Peter Newman brought the fire scene to life in the court room through 3-D animation video and still photography. From the witness stand, Plaintiff’s expert narrated video of dryer fire testing conducted in an exemplar laundry room constructed for this case. After viewing this evidence, which replicated the burn patterns at the real fire scene, the court denied all three of the Defendant’s Daubert motions and the case settled shortly thereafter.
Plaintiffs alleged that the clothes dryer was defective because it allowed lint to accumulate inside the dryer cabinet in close proximity to the electric heater coils behind the clothes drum, where it could not be seen or cleaned by the homeowner. Plaintiffs’ dryer design expert also conducted video-taped tests to demonstrate that accumulated lint ignites when it comes in contact with the electric heater coils and that the burning lint is then drawn into the drum where it ignites tumbling cotton clothes. Testing further demonstrated that the plastic door latch on the dryer door melts when exposed to flame from inside the drum, allowing the door to open and the fire to spread to the surrounding walls and doors, as it did on the night of the fire in the Plaintiffs’ home.
Plaintiffs’ dryer design expert developed a safer alternative design, which he actually built and tested. The alternative design relocated the heater coils away from the rear of the drum and created a metal barrier to separate accumulated lint from the coils. Plaintiffs retained a second expert, formerly a design engineer for the defendant, who evaluated the alternative design and confirmed its feasibility, function, and cost-effectiveness.
Plaintiffs also sent two fire cause and origin experts to the scene of the fire, one a former fire marshal and the other an electrical engineer, who considered all potential causes of the fire other than the dryer, and ruled them out. Testimony obtained from police and fire fighters confirmed that the fire originated in the laundry closet and burn patterns on the dryer and adjacent structures narrowed the point of origin to the inside of the dryer. Lab testing by Plaintiffs’ experts in a full-size mock-up of the fire scene produced similar burn patterns, confirming Plaintiffs’ theory of the case.
The settlement and parties required confidentiality as a term of the settlement.
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