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ARTICLE ID 29038

$________ - PRODUCTS LIABILITY - EMERGENCY ALARM FAILS TO SOUND WHEN OXYGEN TANK RUNS EMPTY WHILE PLAINTIFF FIREFIGHTER IS IN THE MIDST OF BATTLING AN EIGHT-ALARM FIRE IN HIGH-RISE BUILDING - PLAINTIFF TRAPPED WHEN HE STUMBLES INTO SMOKE-FILLED CLOSET AND LOSES CONSCIOUSNESS - PLAINTIFF FOUND LATER BY ANOTHER FIREFIGHTER - ALTHOUGH PLAINTIFF SURVIVES, HE IS LEFT WITH SEVERE BRAIN DAMAGE SECONDARY TO PROLONGED OXYGEN DEPRIVATION.

St. Louis Circuit Court, Missouri

The male plaintiff Fire Captain, with nearly 20 years experience on the job as a firefighter, suffered permanent neurological injuries secondary to oxygen deprivation when his oxygen tank ran out of oxygen as he was battling an eight-alarm fire in a high- rise building. The plaintiff brought suit against the manufacturer of the oxygen tank alleging that the tank was defectively designed in that it lacked adequate safeguarding to prevent the oxygen gauge alarm from malfunctioning. The plaintiff had originally named the premises owner and the distributor of the oxygen tank as codefendants. The building owner and p 7 3 distributor were dismissed early on and the case proceeded against the tank manufacturer only. The defendant manufacturer denied liability, alleging that the tank comported with industry and federal safety standards applicable at the time of the subject incident.

The devastating incident occurred on October 12, ________, as the plaintiff and his fellow firefighters were battling an eight- alarm blaze. The plaintiff was on the 21st floor of a 27-story building when he suddenly ran out of oxygen due to the fact that the alarm on his oxygen tank failed to sound when his oxygen gauge reached a dangerously low level. The plaintiff attempted to find an exit out of the building, but in a panic, opened the door to a closet. He apparently lost consciousness inside the closet and was later discovered and rescued by a fellow firefighter.

Unfortunately, the plaintiff suffered hypoxic insult to the brain due to prolonged oxygen deprivation. The plaintiff’s injuries are severe and permanent, rendering the plaintiff totally disabled as a result of the neurological deficits suffered.

The plaintiff asserted products liability and negligence claims against the manufacturer of the oxygen tank, Mine Safety Appliances Co., alleging that the oxygen tank failed to incorporate necessary emergency back-up devices in the event of an alarm failure. The plaintiff was prepared to offer evidence that this particular oxygen tank and alarm system had a history of malfunctioning, which exceeded that of other similar products.

The plaintiff was prepared to offer evidence of prior similar instances of failure to support his assertion that the defendant was on notice that the oxygen tank/alarm system was defective and required modifications to its design. The plaintiff’s expert noted the life-saving importance of the alarm in support of his position that either a back-up device was necessary, or an overhaul of the design was required.

The plaintiff offered evidence that following the subject accident, the alarm on his tank was found to be loose, further supporting the need for design change given the rigorous nature of firefighting which could foreseeably jar the firefighter’s equipment. The plaintiff was prepared to offer evidence that the defendant had received notice of several prior similar malfunctions involving the subject oxygen tank. Additionally, the plaintiff was prepared to offer evidence of a subsequent incident involving the death of a firefighter who was equipped with the same product and had experienced a similar alarm failure.

Following this incident, the NIOSH examined and tested the tank and reported that such a malfunction might by endemic to the rigorous work involved in firefighting.

The plaintiff offered evidence that in ________, the defendant added a back up alarm as standard equipment, but failed to undertake necessary measures to alert previous purchasers of the documented incident which prompted the defendant to alter its standard design.

On the issue of damages, the plaintiff contended that he sustained permanent injuries, manifesting in severe problems with short-term memory and general cognitive deficits. The plaintiff alleged that he is permanently disabled from returning to work as a firefighter and claimed economic losses as a result. p 7 3 The case settled prior to trial for $________.

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