Jury Finds Sunbeam’s Improved Electric Blanket Circuit Still Doesn’t Fail Safe

A Missouri federal court jury has found Sunbeam Products, Inc. partially responsible for serious burn injuries suffered by a bed-bound elderly woman who was sleeping under one of its electric blankets, when the blanket caught fire.

Barbara Kay of Morgan County, Missouri was sleeping under a Sunbeam electric blanket on October 28, 2008 when it ignited, severely burning 35 percent of her body. Kay had been invalided by a stroke 10 years earlier, which had paralyzed the left side of her body. Kay was also a smoker who smoked in bed, and kept her cigarettes, lighter and ash trays on a tray positioned on her right side, along with the controls for her hospital bed and electric blanket. At about 7 a.m., Kay awoke to pain on her left side and saw flames leaping out of the left side of the bed near her leg and hip. Kay, who was in her 70s, recuperated in the hospital for five months, but lost part of her left arm, as a result of her burns.

Fire department investigators determined that fire originated on the left side of the hospital bed, and narrowed the source of ignition to the blanket or a cigarette, but concluded that a burning cigarette was most likely the source of the fire.

In late June, however, a civil jury concluded that the blanket played a role in the fire, and in awarding Kay $2 million in compensatory damages, assigned one third of the blame to Sunbeam. In the second phase of the trial, the jury heard evidence of Sunbeam’s $1.9 billion net worth, to determine punitive damages. George McLaughlin, who represented the Kays with co-counsel James Crispin, asked for $1 each for the 30 million blankets Sunbeam had sold. But before the jury could decide, Sunbeam and the Kays reached a confidential settlement.

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