Defective Portable Heater Causes Fire That Leaves Woman and Child Dead and Leaves Infant With Severe Injuries

portable heaterThis case involves an allegedly defective portable heater. A fire started in a row house which was the home of a twenty-three-year-old woman and her husband. The plaintiff, the woman’s husband, was in the home along with his wife and her seven-month-old brother, her three-year-old brother, who suffered from Erb’s Palsy, and the couple’s nine-month-old daughter. At the time of the fire, a portable electric heater was in use in the living room in front of the entertainment unit near the front door of the house. After the fire started, the woman re-entered the burning house to try to save her two brothers and her daughter. The woman died in the fire along with her three-year-old brother. Her daughter sustained burns to most of her body, which left her severely disfigured. The child also suffered a severe brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Can problems with the rotary switch on a portable electric heater in a house cause the heater to ignite and start a fire that leads to fatalities?

Expert Witness Response

A radiant portable electric heater works by directing infrared rays onto objects directly and this type of heater is generally used for instant heat. Most radiant portable electric heaters have a built-in safety device called a high limit control which is supposed to shut off the heater if the sensor detects too high of a temperature in the unit. The rotary switch on a portable electric heater is how the heater is turned on and off. If the rotary switch on a portable heater is defective and there are problems with the high limit control on the heater, there is the possibility that the heater may ignite and start a house fire. The high limit control is the primary safety device within the heater that prevents it from overheating. If there are defects with the rotary switch on the heater, such as an overheating defect, the switch could possibly ignite and start a fire. If there is an electrical malfunction with the rotary switch, this can cause it to overheat and it could possibly ignite and start a fire. If the high limit control on a portable electric heater is designed with a heat threshold that is too low, this can cause the device to be activated repeatedly. This repeated activation may cause the rotary switch to fracture and fail and this might later cause a fire if the unit overheats.


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