Product Recall: Where There's Smoke, There's Not Always a Working Fire Alarm

Fire safety product maker Kidde recently announced it issued a recall of nearly 500,000 smoke alarms that could be faulty. The company discovered that a small yellow cap in the alarm could inadvertently cover a sensor, preventing it from detecting smoke.

Since smoke and fire alarms are proven to save lives (two-thirds of deaths from home fires occur there is no working smoke alarms), this is an important recall and hopefully will reach those who own this particular product.

While Kidde’s recall effort is a responsible approach to dealing with the situation, it doesn’t necessarily release the company from liability should a home fire damage property or cause injury or death where this product was installed.

In general, a manufacturer cannot use a broadly issued recall to defeat any claim brought against it. The company must prove that the plaintiff directly received notice of the recall and that the contents of the recall adequately warned the plaintiff of the dangers posed by the defective product. The manufacturer also can’t defeat a plaintiff’s suit by blaming a distributor or seller for not providing the notice directly to the customer -- although the manufacturer may be able to sue the distributor or seller afterwards, depending on the facts of the case.

In cases where house fires cause damage and smoke alarms are not working, liability can also be shared by:

  • Landlords and owners of apartments, condominiums and houses that are rented or leased. These companies and individuals are responsible for checking smoke alarms on a periodic basis to ensure that they are properly working. Even if they do engage in periodic inspections of smoke alarms, they can still be liable in the event that a smoke alarm does not work properly.
  • Maintenance and operating companies. Many rental property owners contract with other individuals and companies to properly maintain rental property. These people and companies may also be liable if a smoke detector does not work.

House fires can be incredibly destructive and devastating; and they can be very challenging lawsuits. In the case of a defective smoke alarm, experienced accident reconstructionists, engineers, and fire experts review the situation and share their expert opinion, so that we can determine why a smoke detector failed to work properly. Once we determine the parties who we believe bear legal liability, we typically initiate legal action against all such parties for their share of liability. Ultimately, it will be up to a jury to determine proportionate liability.

While the Kidde recall is alarming, the good news is, so far the company is not aware of any incidents or injuries connected to the defect.

We hope you will use the recall as a reminder to check your smoke and fire alarms at home and replace their batteries regularly.

If you’ve been injured due to a product defect, we encourage you to call us at Casey Law Offices (414) 272-3776. Our team of experienced legal experts will work to recover any medical expenses and damages that you have incurred from the injury.