Water heaters are a specific type of home heating system, utilizing tanks of water in order to provide heating in the home. Additionally, water heaters provide hot water to various areas of the house, such as in the bathroom and kitchen.
Home heating system injuries can result from various home heating systems. One of the more common examples of injury would be suffocation or poisoning due to carbon monoxide exposure. This is especially a concern where there is poor ventilation associated with a fireplace or chimney. Toxic mold in the heating circulation vents can also lead to lung or skin injuries.
Another common type of injury involves the heating mechanism starting a fire, which results in burns and/or property damage. This is common for electrical heating systems and water-heater type mechanisms. Water heaters can be associated with various types of injuries, which include but may not be limited to:
- Fire and burn injuries;
- Injuries resulting from gas explosions; and
- Electrocution, especially during the installation or replacement process, and for tankless water heaters.
Additionally, water heater accidents can result in significant property damage, especially in connection with an explosion or fire.
Who Can Be Held Liable For Water Heater Injuries?
Who can be held liable for water heater injuries depends on several factors. A personal injury lawsuit involving such injuries is generally based on product liability, premises liability, and/or negligence.
Product liability involves the manufacturer or seller of a product being held accountable for placing a defective product into the stream of commerce. Any party that is responsible for any part of the manufacturing process may be held liable for resulting injuries, just as any seller may be liable. There are three types of defects that could result in product liability:
- Design Defects: Design defects are associated with the design of the product. If the product’s design is defective, regardless of any other factors, it is considered to be inherently flawed and could result in potential liability;
- Manufacturing Defects: A manufacturing defect occurs when the manufacturer assembles the product in such a way that the product is rendered unsafe; and
- Defective Warnings: Some products may lead to a products liability suit if there is an inadequate warning about the product, such as the dangers and safety risks associated with the product. This can also include failure to properly instruct a consumer regarding how to correctly use the product.
Premises liability is what holds property owners responsible for accidents and injuries that occur on their property. Premises liability law requires that property owners ensure the safety of any person who enters their property, as well as take all reasonable measures to accomplish this.
Premises liability claims are generally associated with the legal concept of negligence, as are many personal injury claims. In terms of a water heater injury, the homeowner or property owner may be held liable if they were aware of a dangerous heating system but did not take steps to repair the system or to protect visitors from harm.
Negligence is the legal theory that allows injured parties to monetarily recover for the carelessness of others. A person is said to be negligent if they were careless given the circumstances of the situation. Negligence has four elements that must be shown in order to recover for injuries:
- Duty: The responsibility that one person owes to another. Generally speaking, people going about their day owe a duty of ‘reasonable care’ to each other. This is the amount of care that an ordinary and prudent person would use under similar circumstances;
- Breach: This refers to when a person’s level of care falls below the level that is required by their duty;
- Causation: The breach of a duty must be the cause of injury. The legal test for causation is ‘but for’ one party’s actions, the injury would not have occurred; and
- Damages: Generally, there must be some sort of harm that occurred.
In terms of water heater injury lawsuits, installers or sellers of home heating systems can be held liable for poor installation, and/or for knowingly selling a dangerous product
Many injuries resulting from home heating systems can be avoided by thorough inspection of the system upon installation, as well as regular maintenance. Systems should be replaced or repaired upon the first sign of malfunction or dangerous performance. Examples of such signs may include, but not be limited to:
- Burning smells;
- Smoke; and/or
- Visible wear on the machinery.
Being aware of these signs and taking prompt action to remedy them can reduce potential liability for water heater injuries.
How Are Water Heater Injuries Legally Remedied?
In some cases, legal action for home heating systems can be filed as a class action lawsuit. A class action is a lawsuit generally brought by one or more people on behalf of a group of others who are in a similar legal situation. Everyone is required to share similar legal issues, and there must be enough individuals involved that it would not make sense for each party to bring separate lawsuits.
Initially, a person or group of people will bring a putative class action lawsuit against the defendant. In terms of a water heater class action lawsuit, this would generally be the manufacturer and/or the distributor. The court will then decide whether or not to certify the lawsuit as a class action. If certified, the original group will represent the entire class action group.
Depending on each specific lawsuit, class members may be entitled to a portion of the damages that are paid by the defendant. Because these lawsuits generally involve a lot of people by definition, the amount of damages received may be negligible.
Other common examples of what class action members may receive include, but may not be limited to:
- Products; and/or
- Services from the company. Attorneys fees are generally taken from the damages award, rather than received up front.
As previously discussed, water heater accidents can involve serious injuries such as burns and disfigurement. A lawsuit can result in a monetary damages award for the victim, which is intended to help them recover losses such as:
- Medical bills;
- Pain and suffering;
- Missed income resulting from the incident; and
- Other related costs.
Some water heater cases may result in a product recall. This is especially true for water heater injuries resulting from a manufacturing defect. These are requests by manufacturers to have a product removed from sales shelves and returned, generally for a refund or a similar product exchange.
Recalls are ordered in cases in which the manufacturer believes that the product poses a health or safety risk to consumers. By doing so, the manufacturer attempts to avoid violations of product safety laws while also decreasing potential legal action for products liability injuries.
A product recall can greatly reduce the liability of a manufacturer, especially if a consumer knowingly continues to use a product that has been recalled as dangerous.
If you have been injured by a product that has not yet been recalled, you should file a report with the manufacturer and ask about compensation. If the case is serious enough, you may need to file a lawsuit for damages.
Do I Need An Attorney For Water Heater Injury Lawsuits?
If you have been injured because of a water heater, and believe it is due to a product defect, you should consult with an experienced and local defective product lawyer.
An attorney can help you determine your legal options according to your state’s specific laws, and will be aware of any recalls or class action lawsuits. Additionally, your consumer attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.