• December 13, 2013
Fire, photograph by Gregory Jordan

Fire, photograph by Gregory Jordan

Update (12/13/2013): Clothing sellers/manufacturers: A Minnesota jury may decide that your product is unreasonably dangerous even if it meets a federal standard as to flammability.  

U.S. District Court (D. Minn.) Judge Susan R. Nelson’s recent ruling on defendants’ motion for summary judgment is fairly read as a near-complete victory for the plaintiff. Bear in mind that this one chapter, of course, in a multi-chapter tale.

Original Post (9/20/2013):  It will never be possible to get back what a little girl has lost when she has suffered serious burns over much of her body when her dress caught fire from a votive candle.  The little girl’s mother let her child out of her sight for moments and the girl apparently brushed past a votive candle.  Her 100% cotton loose-fitting Gymboree dress caught fire and burned quite quickly, her lawyers argue.

The clothing manufacturer’s defense is quite clear.  Is it strong enough to get out of the case on summary judgment?

In a nutshell, it seems quite clear that our society, in general, has made the cost-benefit analysis of 100% cotton clothing for children.  We know that it can catch fire.  We nevertheless do not prohibit its use or require warnings about its flammability, just as we do not require that similar warnings accompany the morning newspaper or other common household paper products.  Gymboree’s lengthy (and undoubtedly very expensive) memorandum of law in support of its motion for summary judgment is here.

Lawyers for the child and her family, no the other hand, rely on experts with deep backgrounds in fire safety.  In a nutshell, they offer the opinion that an outfit like this — a loose-fitting 100% cotton dress for a small child — should warn that it can catch fire and burn quickly.

I will not venture a prediction on how U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Nelson (D. Minn.) will decide Gymboree’s motion.  I am, however, sympathetic to this unfortunate accident victim as I am sure you, the readers, are, and, maybe also, some sympathy is due to the Court that has to make difficult decisions in so many cases like this one.

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