Thanksgiving is a day of great food, but it can also be a day of injuries; however, human error may not be the sole cause of these accidents.


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The holidays are fast approaching. It is a time to get together with family and friends to enjoy some football and delicious holiday favorites.

As you flock to the kitchen to make your green bean casseroles and cranberry sauce, you might decide that this is the year to make life a little easier. After a quick trip to your favorite big box store, you might find yourself the proud new owner of a shiny new electric carver, a pristine mandoline slicer, or a nifty new turkey fryer.

Accidents: Human Error vs. Product Liability

However, these new gadgets can possibly lead to some hazardous conditions. According to a U.S. Fire Administration study, “The average number of reported residential building fires on Thanksgiving Day was more than double (2.3 times more) the average number of fires in residential buildings on all days.”

Naturally, human error can account for many fires and injurious accidents. You tried to get one more slice out of that potato on the mandoline slicer and added some finger instead, or you were rooting for your favorite football team in the living room. You didn’t notice the black tendrils of smoke leaking out of the oven due to a supremely overdone sweet potato hotdish.

However, the product itself, not the user, may be to blame for other mishaps. This may lead to a product liability suit. As A. Ilyas Akbari of Baum Hedlund Aristei and Goldman, P.C. states, “Product liability is essentially the manufacturer or designer of a product being liable for the injuries for the use of their product.”

3 Types of Product Defects

Product liability cases are about product defects. These can fall into three categories:

Manufactured Defect 

There was an error in product fabrication. The product is somehow different than the others on the shelf. For instance, perhaps a thermometer on the turkey fryer wasn’t installed correctly and thus it does not accurately measure the oil’s temperature.

Design Defect

There is an inherently dangerous defect that is present in all products. This could be a bad metal chosen for its cost-effectiveness but can't withstand the temperatures in which a turkey fryer will achieve.

Failure to Provide Adequate Warnings or Instruction

This would be failing to warn a user of special precautions when using the product. As Akbari states, [It’s] one thing to warn, but it must be sufficient.”

A big past issue with turkey fryers has been people attempting to fry turkeys that were either fully or partially frozen. Akbari continues, “If the warning to make sure the bird is completely thawed is buried in the instruction somewhere, failure to follow that warning would not be misuse. Because of the potential for severe injury, that warning must be prominent and convey the serious risk.”

Criteria for a Liability Suit

If a turkey fryer caused an injury the plaintiff, as Akbari explains, “...would need to prove: 1) The defendant designed, manufactured, distributed or sold the fryer; 2) The fryer contained the defect when it left the defendant’s possession; 3) Plaintiff used the fryer in a foreseeable way; and 4) The defect in the fryer caused plaintiff’s injuries.”

Possible Claims Due to a Product Defect

If a defective product caused an injury, there are several types of liability claims including:

Negligence

This is where it must be shown that the defendant did not exercise reasonable care. Such as the inspection process of the product was lacking.

Breach of Warranty/Fitness

The product was not reasonably fit for the purpose in which it was sold. Perhaps the metal used for the turkey fryer cannot withstand having oil heated to 350 degrees without melting or bending.

Strict liability only requires that the plaintiff show the product was defective. It doesn’t matter if the manufacturer exercised reasonable care or not.

Stay Safe

In order to stay safe this holiday season and enjoy all the culinary delights, make sure you read the instructions and warnings on any new product that you purchase. It can be chilly on Thanksgiving Day but keep that turkey fryer on the driveway and not covered in your slightly warmer garage. Use protective gear such as aprons and gloves. Mandolines come with protective guides and while it does take longer to get those paper-thin sliced potatoes your fingers will be thankful to have not ended up as a side-dish.

Accidents Happen, Be Prepared

Unfortunately, accidents do happen so make sure you have a first aid kit and fire extinguisher handy. And if your accident did occur for some other reason than human error, contact an attorney and see if you might have a possible product liability suit.