Greg Borgeson was using a 36 inch long “Tuf-Tony” propane cutting torch to disassemble a truck for parts in his employer’s junkyard. As plaintiff lit the torch, the flame spread from the tip, up through the body of the torch, and erupted out of the handle, burning through the oxygen hose. Plaintiff was burned on his chest, left arm, and shoulder.
The cutting torch was designed and manufactured by Smith Equipment, a division of defendant Illinois Tool Works, Inc. Codefendant Ronald Garrison, a sole proprietor, and Smith Equipment distributor sold the torch to plaintiffs employer.
“Flashback” fires are well known to cutting torch manufacturers and annually result in numerous burn injuries, including several deaths. The flame of a cutting torch can migrate from the tip through the torch body and explode out from the metal handle if, because of either operator error or equipment malfunction, the fuel gas and oxygen mix improperly in the oxygen line. Flashback fires can be prevented by a simple safety device called a “flashback arrestor” that is mounted at the base of the torch. The arrestor extinguishes the flame before it can leave the torch. Although the defendant Smith Equipment marketed flashback arrestors when it made the accident torch, the torch was sold to plaintiffs employer without the crucial safety device.
Plaintiff contended that the torch should have been designed to have built-in arrestors, as other manufacturers have done.
Defendants argued that plaintiff did not need to be warned about the safety advantages of flashback arrestors because he had already been burned in a flashback fire four years earlier with another “Tuf-Tony” cutting torch. The defendants noted that plaintiffs employer declined to purchase arrestors after the first accident when offered by the defendant retailer. The defendants emphasized that the equipment had been abused by the employer. After the defendants found an oil contaminant in the torch, they argued that the fire was not a “flashback but a chemical ignition of the oil when it was exposed to pure oxygen; a fire which would not have been confined by a flashback arrestor.
Burns on the chest, left arm, and shoulder. Plaintiff was hospitalized for three and one-half weeks and was unable to return to work for eleven months. Plaintiff was able to return to alternate light-duty work, but he will never be able to return to his life-long trade of cutting and welding.
$1,600,000 settlement ($1 ,I 00,000 cash plus cost of a structured settlement that could yield more than an additional $1,700,000).
Plaintiff’s Expert Witnesses: John Nelson, engineer, Rochester, N.Y. Defendant’s Expert Witnesses: Lawrence Matta, Ph.D., Exponent Failure Analysts, Alexandria, Va.; Steve Arndt, Ph.D., Exponent Failure Analysts, Alexandria, Va.;
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Martin Brigham and Eunice Trevor of Brigham & Trevor, Philadelphia, Pa.
Defendant’s Attorneys: Bruce Bieneman, Michigan; Jim Donohue of White and Williams; Daniel Altschuler of Post & Schell.