$35,000,000 – Child Injured When Stove Fell on Him

A Southwest Philadelphia boy who suffered burns over 20 percent of his body after a stove toppled and spilled scalding water on him will receive $5 million in cash and up to $30 million more during his lifetime under terms of a settlement reached this week.

Eunice Trevor

In February 1999, 5-year-old Abraham Jaward walked in to the kitchen of his mother's apartment, opened the oven door and climbed onto the door to reach a pot on the stove. The stove turned over, and the scalding water spilled onto Abraham's lower back and legs. The boy was taken to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, where he was treated for second- and third-degree burns. During his five-week stay at S. Christopher's, Abraham underwent three skin grafts.

Plaintiff's attorney Eunice Trevor said that although Abraham is now an active and healthy 7-year-old, the scars on his lower back and upper thighs are severe and could cause psychological difficulties as he ages. Part of the settlement, Trevor added, will fund ongoing counseling to help Abraham overcome potential problems such as distancing himself from relationships due to his hidden scars.

If Abraham lives to his full life expectancy of 73, he could receive up to $29.1 million in payments.

A condition of the settlement agreement prevents the release of the names of the attorneys who represented the landlord of Abraham's apartment, Hoffman Place Apartments, and the undisclosed manufacturer of the stove. The relative contribution of the landlord and the manufacturer are also confidential terms of the agreement.

The premises liability action was filed against Hoffman Place, and a strict products liability action was filed against the manufacturer.

The plaintiffs focused the case against the manufacturer on the absence of any warning on the stove. The manufacturer relied on the installation of an anti-tip device to prevent accidents. This allowed responsibility for the accident to be shifted form the manufacturer to the installer of the stove, Hoffman Place.

Trevor, who was co-counsel for the plaintiff with Martin K. Brigham, said that Hoffman Place hired an inexperienced worker to install stoves in the apartment complex, and that the worker did not use an anti-tip device in the installation.

A paramedic in the district testified that six or seven stove tip-overs had occurred in Abraham's neighborhood. After his family sued, the apartment complex agreed to install the anti-tip device in all of its stoves.

Trevor and Brigham attributed their success in the case to a video recorded during Abraham's early physical therapy treatments and to data collected on similar cases nationwide. The plaintiff's attorneys began working on the case shortly after the accident and were able to capture on video Abraham's initial physical therapy. As a result, Trevor said, even two years later if the case had gone to trial before a jury the jurors would have completely understood what Abraham had endured.

The attorneys also indicated that stove tip-overs had been a problem for decades and that the response by the real estate community had been dismal. Nationwide the number of children burned or crushed to death from toppling stoves is in the hundreds.

The collected data convinced the court to allow the plaintiff to seek punitive damages from Hoffman Place and the manufacturer. From the onset Abraham's attorneys were confident the case would settle before trial.

The settlement brochures, said Trevor, made it clear what would happen at trial, so she and her co-counsel knew that the defendants had all the information they needed to make a decision before a trial began.

Settlement Reflects Risk of Punitives Had Case Gone to Trial