In a case recently decided by a California trial court, it was determined that a candle manufacturer and distributor had no liability for the result of the deaths of twin boys that tragically lost their lives in a fire. Parents of the two 15 year old boys claimed that the fire that took their lives was caused by a defective candle product, specifically, a candle surrounded by a glass container that was manufactured by Anchor Hocking LLC and Home Garden Party LLC (doing business as Celebrating Home). Allegedly, the candle was lit and in the middle of the night, the fire escaped the confines of the candle and entrenched the boys’ room in flames.
After a thorough investigation by the fire department, it was determined that while the candle was probably the cause of the fire, there was no evidence of a candle or wax in the boys’ room. Additionally, several electrical devices were present near an electrical outlet that was adjacent to the alleged candle- which would presumably have been a greater catalyst for any spark or flame that the candle may have initiated. Parents brought suit against the manufacturer claiming wrongful death predicated on negligence for a defective product.
After suit was filed, the Defendant manufacturer filed a motion for summary judgment with the court. In essence, the motion claimed that there were no facts in dispute that rose to a triable level and that they should be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In opposition, the parents of the deceased children filed a report by an expert witness that discussed his belief, to a reasonably degree of scientific certainty, that the defect in the candle and/or glass caused the deaths of the boys. However, the Court was reluctant to accept this from the expert. The assumption of facts that the expert witness based his opinion had no evidentiary support and rose to the level of speculation and mere conjecture.
As the court identified, once a defendant meets his or her burden of showing that the case before them as no merit, or that there are one or more elements to the cause of action that the plaintiff cannot prove by a preponderance of the evidence, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that a triable issue exists, or that that there are material facts in support of their cause. The Defendant met it’s burden by providing that the alleged candle was not available for inspection, there was no examination of the candle and/or container, and that the fire investigator identified the electrical system as a potential culprit in the matter. Plaintiff failed to show, through expert testimony, that the candle had a manufacturing or a design defect present that rendered it unfit for its purpose and/or dangerous.
While the grieving parents attempted to show this with an expert opinion- the court found the declaration of the expert to be nothing more than a hypothetical possibility as the expert did not examine the candle itself, nor did he examine a similarly situated candle or perform tests. As such, Plaintiff failed to overcome the burden put upon them with their opposition to the motion for summary judgment. Their case was dismissed.
To read more on the case above, please see Platero v. Anchor Hocking, which was decided this month in California. If you believe you have a claim for a defective product our office can help. To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.