Recently, a BBQ restaurant in Charleston agreed to a settlement with General Electric and Walmart after a fire broke out and harmed the premises. The owners of Porkers B-B-Q had filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the other two businesses, alleging that a faulty freezer made by General Electric, and sold at a Walmart store, was the cause of the fire.
The freezer was purchased three years earlier, and an investigation discovered that a malfunction of its compressor unit, as well as its power cord, may have been the cause of the fire. Since the fire, Porkers has been out of operation and has been accepting insurance payments. In the lawsuit, the owners of Porkers claimed that the freezer was not safe for its intended use, due to defects in the design, and that both General Electric and Walmart should have known that the freezer was unsafe. The owners sought $105,935 from the two businesses in order to rebuild the restaurant, as well as $55,000 in lost franchise and royalty fees.
However, prior to the settlement, the United States District Court judge who heard the case, Joseph Goodwin, had issued a summary judgment ruling against the owners, effectively dismissing at least some of their arguments. Judge Goodwin noted that during its years in business, Porkers never officially turned a profit. Furthermore, the owners had admitted that Pokers closed down not because of the fire, but because the landlord refused to renew its lease. Although the owners had claimed that the fire was the indirect cause of the breakdown between landlord and Porkers, Judge Goodwin did not accept this argument and did not think a jury would, either. He described the interactions with the landlord as an “independent cause” separate from the chain of causation instigated by the fire. Judge Goodwin also thought that the lost franchise and royalty fees claim was irrelevant, as it was based upon the sale of two franchises, which did not require any interaction with the damaged property.
The case was originally set to go to trial in mid-to-late December. The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.
Property damage is a serious thing, whether the damage is to your home or to your business. If you believe that damage to your property was caused by someone else’s careless behavior, you should hire an experienced West Virginia product liability attorney to help get you relief so that you can start over.
In the case of a refrigerator fire, the best option would likely be to file a product liability lawsuit. To succeed, you would need to show that the refrigerator was unreasonably dangerous because it was designed that way, because that particular refrigerator came off of the assembly line damaged, and/or because it lacked an adequate warning label. You would also have to show that as a result defect, the refrigerator caused a fire that damaged or destroyed your property. You would likely seek a monetary award that would compensate you for your loss, including any perceived economic losses as a result of not being able to use the property (if the damaged property were a business) or personal loss (if the damaged property had special meaning, like a wedding album). However, as this case demonstrated, to have a credible argument, you must be able to prove that the business, or the personal item, had value. It is not enough to simply say so.