A 31-year-old father of three young children was killed when a gas water heater exploded while he was removing glue and adhesive from a utility room floor in the defendant homeowners house. The Schurmer Firm brought the case on behalf of the kids and against the homeowner and the company that installed the gas water heater in the utility room.
The gentleman that was killed was hired by an independent contractor to remove glue and adhesive from the floor of the utility room. He arrived at the home and used lacquer thinner to assist him in scraping off the glue from the concrete floor. A gas water heater had been installed in the utility room a number of years earlier. This water heater had a pilot light that was located at the bottom of the heater approximately 3 inches from the floor. Prior to the work being done, no one turned off the pilot light or warned the decedent that he was in any danger.
As he was working, the flammable vapors from the lacquer thinner were drawn toward and into the water heater, into the combustion chamber, and the lit pilot light caused the water heater to explode almost instantly killing the decedent.
- Both the installer of the heater and the homeowner were negligent per se for violation of The California Plumbing Code. Basically, the code required a permit for the heater to be installed and no one pulled a permit. More importantly, the code required that water heaters like the one in question, when installed in a similar location to the house, were to be installed with the pilot light at least 18 inches above the floor. Here, it was installed approximately 3 inches from the floor. The reason for the requirement of added clearance above the floor was precisely to prevent the type of explosion that occurred in this case.
- The installer was negligent for failing to comply with industry standards when installing the gas water heater. Like the Plumbing Code, the well accepted standards in the industry required at least 18 inches of clearance from the floor to the location of the pilot light.
- The homeowner was independently negligent for failing to comply with numerous code sections that required 18 inches of clearance between the floor and the location of the pilot light.
- The homeowner had a nondelegable duty to keep her home in a safe condition and was independently negligent in failing to do so. The homeowner knew that the decedent intended to use flammable solvents to remove the adhesive from the floor and knew that the pilot light was too close to the floor. The homeowner did not turn off the pilot light or instruct that it be turned off.
The case was vigorously contested. Both defendants filed multiple Motions for Summary Judgment and asked the court to dismiss the case in its entirety. The case law surrounding these issues is very complex and all three of the motions were difficult to oppose. The Schurmer Firm was successful in prevailing on all three motions and were ultimately able to resolve the case for a very favorable result for the three young children.
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