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The Dangers of Ethanol-Fueled Appliances 

Posted in: Blog, Serious Personal Injury // Written on behalf of Cuming & Gillespie
September 19, 2019

The Ontario fire marshal has issued a warning of the significant risk associated with tabletop fireplaces that use ethanol as fuel following a number of fatalities and injuries in Ontario over the past three years.

One of the incidents involved a woman named Hana Engel (“Engel”) who suffered second and third degree burns at a dinner party hosted by Cody Ceci (“Ceci”), a player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his common-law partner, Jamie Thompson (“Thompson”).   Engel is suing Ceci, Thompson and others for more than $8 million in damages for the injuries she has suffered when she was “immediately engulfed in flames”.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On May 9, 2018, Engel alleges that she became engulfed in flames when Thompson unintentionally ignited her with liquid ethanol burner fuel, causing Engel to suffer burns to 35% of her body.

At approximately 9 p.m., Thompson was refilling one of the burners of the outdoor fireplace.  It is alleged that she squirted ethanol onto the burner without checking to ensure that it had completely extinguished, which caused flames and ethanol to jet out of the bottle.  Thompson proceeded to throw the burning bottle in Engel’s direction, causing her clothing to catch fire and she became immediately engulfed in flames. 

The phenomenon referred to as flame jetting, which occurs when fuel vapors are ignited when refueling an appliance that is not fully put out and a flame is not visible, is the cause of several incidents of burn injuries.  According to Douglas Browne, Ontario’s Deputy Fire Marshal:

It essentially means the ethanol fuel creates an over pressurization in the canister and when a flame contacts it, it will shoot out flames similar to a blowtorch or flame thrower.

As a result of the accident, Engel was in a coma for three weeks and required three surgeries.  Engel alleges that her appearance has been permanently altered and she continues to undergo rehabilitation and treatment for her injuries.

Engel is seeking damages for pain and suffering, loss of amenities, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of housekeeping and homemaking capacity, loss of income, loss of competitive advantage in the marketplace and loss of economic opportunities.

The lawsuit also names Engel’s common-law partner, Jacob Cardwell (“Cardwell”), her parents and her siblings as plaintiffs (i.e. person(s) who brings a case against another in a court of law) in the lawsuit.  Cardwell is seeking $900,000 in damages for loss of care, guidance and companionship, loss of income, and for costs associated with providing nursing, attendant care and other services to Engel.  He is also seeking damages for nervous shock, intentional infliction of mental suffering and emotional distress. 

Engel’s parents are seeking $700,000 and her siblings are seeking $200,000 in damages for loss of care, guidance and companionship and for costs associated with nursing, attendant care and other services provided to Engel. 

The lawsuit names also Clair de Lune Products Inc. (the manufacturer of the tabletop ethanol fireplace) and Les Distributions Orca Lite Inc. (the distributor of the ethanol biofuel) as defendants (i.e. individual or company sued in a court of law).

It has been reported that Clair de Lune stopped selling the tabletop ethanol fireplace following this accident.

WHAT ARE THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST CECI AND HIS PARTNER IN THE LAWSUIT?

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that the incident was caused by the “individual or combined negligence” of the defendants. 

It is alleged that Thompson didn’t know how to properly operate the fireplace, disregarded warning labels, failed to take safety precautions failed to warn guests of the danger, failed to read instructions, and allegedly squirted liquid ethanol onto an open flame.

The lawsuit also alleges that Ceci was negligent for not knowing how to properly operate the fireplace, failing to read instructions, failing to understand the safety precautions, ignoring warning labels and failing to prevent Thompson from refilling the fireplace with ethanol while the flame was low.

CECI AND THOMPSON’S RESPONSE TO THE ALLEGATIONS

Ceci and Thompson have denied all allegations of negligence contained in the lawsuit against them. 

The statement of defence that Ceci and Thompson have filed in response to the lawsuit alleges that their co-defendants, the companies that manufactured and distributed the products involved in the incident, were responsible for the damages or losses suffered by the plaintiffs.

Ceci and Thompson allege that the manufacturers made the tabletop fireplace with faulty components, failed to properly test and inspect the product, sold poor quality materials, sold the fireplace without proper instructions, failed to warn consumers that the fireplace could fail at any time, and failed to warn retailers of the “inherent defects and dangers associated with the use of ethanol-filled tabletop fireplaces”.

The couple also allege that Engel’s damages and losses were contributed to by her own negligence.  They set out in their defence that Engel was inattentive, endangered her own safety, may have been impaired and was affected by “illness, injury or disease” that pre-dates the incident in question.

None of the allegations made by the plaintiffs or the defendants have been tested in court.

HOW TO PREVENT FLAME JETTING FROM OCCURING?

The Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management of Ontario recommends the following tips to prevent flame jetting when utilizing ethanol fuel appliances:

  • Ensure that all flames in an ethanol fueled appliance are fully extinguished and that it is cold to the touch before refueling;
  • Ensure that no one is near the appliance when refueling;
  • Use a fuel container that has a flame arrester (plastic or wire mesh that absorbs heat from a container and prevents fire from travelling inside) when refueling.

If you or a loved one have experienced a serious personal injury or loss as the result of someone else’s fault or negligence, you may have grounds to pursue legal action against them in the form of a personal injury claim. Please contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at  Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers for a free case evaluation online or by calling 403-571-0555.  We are dedicated to providing you with the legal help you deserve.

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