This case involves a male who suffered extensive burns from a pressure cooker that exploded. The plaintiff prepared and placed the ingredients for a beef chili in the pressure cooker, which he had recently purchased. According to the instructions, this cooker did not allow a user to program and start it unless the lid was secure. While cooking was in progress under high pressure, the lid was unable to be removed. While cooking, he prepared other items and cleaned dishes, but he only left the kitchen for a momentary bathroom break. The plaintiff went to chop some onions, placing the cutting board next to the pressure cooker, and the lid exploded off of the cooker. He was covered with burning liquid and subsequently suffered extensive third-degree burns on his arm, neck, and half of his face. Expert witnesses with specialties in consumer product safety and explosives were retained for the case.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Are you capable of evaluating the pressure cooker to offer an opinion on what went wrong, and what defects in the cooker could have contributed to this occurrence?
Expert Witness Response
I can perform a failure analysis on this product. Pressure cookers use steam to cook foods at a faster rate than conventional methods. As such, the device needs to be adequately designed and manufactured to ensure that it is assembled safely. Most pressure cookers have a standard pressure setting of 15 psi (this equates to about one standard atmosphere). In a device, this can cause a tremendous buildup of pressure. To combat this risk, many pressure cookers are equipped with an interlock lid, which prevents the lid from opening when the cooker reaches a certain pressure. Additionally, most pressure cookers also have ways to release excess pressure, usually by way of a specific device (a rocker or a gasket). An error in the process of any of these could cause a dangerous situation. Because of the numerous safety features inherent in most models, there does appear to be something defective with the model in this circumstance. In some cases, the vent where pressure is released can be defective in that it is easily blocked by food residue. Also, if the safety device which relieves pressure is not assembled correctly, this can a hazardous buildup of pressure. Usually, to perform this type of failure analysis, the specifics of the individual model in question, in addition to a new model, will be compared. Then, I can examine and determine what deficiencies existed either with its design or with the manufacturing of the device in question.