Design Defect Causes Clothing Iron to Burst Into Flames


This case involves a product liability suit against an appliance company. The plaintiff was using a clothes iron, which he had purchased three months prior to the incident in question. On the day in question, the plaintiff was ironing and briefly put the iron down in the upright position. He turned towards his closet to retrieve another shirt, but he started to smell something foul and turned to find acrid smoke and flames coming from where the electric cord met the base of the iron. As the fire spread onto the ironing board cover, the plaintiff unplugged the iron and attempted to extinguish the flames by dousing them with water. The fire quickly spread to other articles of clothing, the dresser, and eventually spread to the bedroom. The plaintiff called 911, and the fire department extinguished the fire. It was later revealed that the fire caused over $113,453 of damage. Additionally, the plaintiff suffered second-degree burns on both of his arms.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. What can cause an iron to burst into flames, and what components can be examined to determine if the fire was due to a design defect?

Expert Witness Response

There are generally two potential causes of iron-related fires. One is overheating, which can be caused by a problem in different parts, and the other is a shorted cord causing an electrical fire. Irons contain thermostats to regulate and control temperature. A spring made of two different metals with divergent linear thermal coefficients bonded together is mounted onto a small metal post. Power contacts are attached to the end of this bimetallic switch, passing electricity through so the iron can be heated. This automatic process manages the temperature of the iron to prevent overheating. The thermostat, along with the housing, the molten aluminum sole plate, and the water tank, are assembled into an iron. Generally, the electrical cord is the last piece to be added. After assembly, the iron should undergo a testing process and then be inspected manually. Nowadays, many irons include an automatic shutoff feature after thirty minutes. This protects users that may have forgotten to turn off their irons or are using them for a dangerously long period of time, protecting them from their iron overheating and bursting into flames. Based on the initial facts of the case, a fire of that nature starting so quickly would probably have been an electric fire. Electrical fires are usually the result of old or improper wiring in the electrical device. Over time, a wire’s insulation breaks down, making it vulnerable. However, since this iron was only a few months old, the shorted cord should be examined for defect. By examining the original design of the iron, the components of the iron in question, and the specifics of the environment, a full understanding of any defects can be understood. I have over thirty-six years of experience designing and servicing household appliances, including prior testimonial experience regarding irons and iron defects.

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