Established A Complete Defense To Liability Allegations For The Alleged Failure Of A Smoke Detector
To Activate In A Student Dormitory Unit

Student occupants of a dormitory unit suffered severe burns in a fire which erupted when one of the occupants fell asleep while smoking in bed. One of the students was so severely burned that tissue damage permeated to the bone and damage to vital organs was significant. This student required substantial grafting and reconstructive surgery over the course of several years to partially restore functionality and appearance. The second student suffered burns, but far less severe.

Witnesses testified that our client’s smoke detector did not activate, even though black smoke was billowing out from under the students’ closed door. Allegations were raised that had the smoke detector properly activated, the students would have awakened promptly and evacuated the room before suffering burn injuries. Instead, the more severely injured student was described by expert testimony as having remained asleep for an extended duration while his body burned. Ultimately, other resident students observing the smoke, entered the room and rescued the burned occupants.

Claims of negligence and product liability were asserted against our client. During our investigation and in the course of litigation, this firm discovered facts which established a strong defense to these actions. Fire department records were subpoenaed and reviewed. These records revealed that upon entry of the dormitory unit the firefighters observed that a beanie had been placed over our client’s smoke detector unit. Witnesses testified that the severely burned student had participated in a day trip to Tijuana during which he drank excessively. Such testimony also established that this student had placed his beanie over the smoke detector to purposely disable the unit. The student was smoking marijuana and sought to avoid any detection of that activity.

Based on expert advice concerning the high reliability of smoke detector units, counsel for plaintiffs was challenged to test our client’s device at Underwriter Laboratories (“UL”) in Chicago. The condition for such a test was that actions against our client would be dismissed if the unit properly activated under appropriate laboratory conditions. All parties agreed and met at the UL facilities in Chicago to observe the test. The test was administered by UL technicians and the smoke detector properly performed. Without either further litigation or payment of any kind, all actions against our client were dismissed.

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