Conair Corp. has survived a product liability lawsuit alleging that a heating pad set a bed on fire and burned down a house and killed the pets.
The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a grant of summary judgment to the company from Effingham County State Court Judge Ronald Thompson.
Judge Brian Rickman wrote the opinion released Tuesday. He was joined by Presiding Judges John Ellington and Christopher McFadden. The judges concluded that, although Mary Sheffield did lie down on her new heating pad with a pain in her neck on Sept. 30, 2013, and wake up with her bed in flames, she failed to provide evidence that the pad caused the fire or even that it was defective.
Sheffield “had the burden of pointing to specific evidence giving rise to a triable issue of fact regarding the causal connection between Conair’s alleged design defect and the fire that resulted in their injuries,” Rickman said. “The record evidence, however, allows for only an inference that the heating pad caused the fire, and that inference does not extend to the cause being the result of a design defect.”
Richman added that inferences “must be based on probabilities rather than mere possibilities.” The local fire chief testified that he believed the fire started “in the area of the heating pad,” Rickman said. But he could not say for sure what caused the fire.
In any case, Rickman repeated the defense argument that Sheffield “misued” the heating pad by falling asleep on it—against the warning on the label. The pads range in price from about $15 to $25. The product Sheffield used did not have an automatic safety shut off feature.
Sheffield was represented by Michael Robl of Robl Law Group in Tucker. He could not be reached.
Conair was represented by Jeffery Saxby of Hall Booth Smith in Atlanta.
Saxby said Friday that he doesn’t believe the pad caused the fire. The defense expert was able to examine the pad and determine it was not defective. And if it had started the fire, it would have been consumed by flames, which it was not, he said.
The defense offered another theory as to the cause of the fire. Saxby alleged Sheffield was “a pack-a-day smoker,” although she testified she never smoked in bed.
Said Saxby, “Our position was the heating pad was a victim of the fire, not the cause.”
The case is Sheffield v. Conair, No. A18A1032.