Dangerous Space Heater Ignites Clothing

Product Liability Expert WitnessThis case takes place in Virginia and involves injury from a space heater, which was powered by a small cylinder of propane and was designed for use indoors. The plaintiff in this case was a restaurant owner who was using several of these heaters to heat an enclosed patio that contained a bar and some seating. At one point, she was working near the output grill of one of the heaters at what she believed to be a safe distance. After only a few minutes, the back of the plaintiff’s clothes ignited, causing extensive burns on her skin and igniting a small fire behind the bar, causing thousands of dollars of property damage. It is alleged that the Plaintiff was using the heaters in accordance with the manufacture’s instructions, and that the injuries and damage caused by the fire was a result of their defective design. An expert in fire causation safety and thermal analysis was retained for this case.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1.) Are you able to testify to how much heat and what temperature it would take for certain clothing to catch on fire?
  • 2.) Do you have practical experience determining at what temperature cotton catches on fire?
  • 3.) Have you ever served as an expert witness in a similar case? Please explain.
  • 4.) Please tell us why you're qualified to serve as an expert reviewer of this case.

Expert Witness Response E-004874

Expert-ID: E-004874

I can testify as to temperatures required to ignite fabrics. The ignition temperature is highly dependent on many different factors…specific composition, weave, dyes/chemical treatments, etc. I am on the ASTM D-13 committee. (textiles), with primary interest in fabric flammability testing. I review and provide input and cast ballots on proposed ASTM fabric flammability tests and requirements. I served as an expert witness on a case for the clothing manufacturer which involved burn injuries when clothing that they manufactured ignited when subjected to children playing with a butane lighter. In addition to knowledge and experience noted above and in addition to being a Certified Fire and Explosions Investigator, I have had training and have extensive knowledge in the areas of warnings labels and instructions……which I suspect are important issues in this case. I reviewed the subject heater’s operator’s manual last night and observed that there are numerous deficiencies in the manual. Furthermore, I was unable to determine what, if any, permanent instructions or hazard warnings were affixed to it. I’ve worked on two other cases with defective DESA propane space heaters, including one in which my coat sustained heat damage during testing

Expert Witness Response E-008644

The heat flux necessary to ignite cotton and the temperature of cotton at ignition have been well studied. I have been involved in a case in which heat from an electric wall mounted space heater was alleged to have ignited a child’s cotton T-shirt. Testing was conducted to determine distance and timing for ignition of similar T-shirts. I have a specialized education with masters level courses in combustion, fire dynamics, fire assessment methods, and human response to fire. Happy to help on this case.


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