Family alleges water heater's bad design caused painter's fatal injuries

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Jan. 21, 2009, 12:39pm

MARSHALL � The family of a painter killed when a water heater exploded is suing the manufacturer for faulty design.

The family of Rebecca Chamberlain alleges the water heater would not have exploded if the company had placed a flame or spark arrestor on its product.

While working as a contract painter, Chamberlain was using aerosol spray texture paint on an interior room in a home in Longview on Dec. 16 and 17. According to the lawsuit, Chamberlain was unaware there was a water heater located in the closet.

When she engaged the aerosol can to begin to paint, there was a sudden explosion, caused by the gas water heater igniting the paint fumes, the suit states.

According to the suit, the homeowner, who was at the other end of the house, says she heard a "pop" and by the time she reached the painters they "were already on fire."

The flash fire caused Chamberlain to suffer burns to more than 50 percent of her body. She was transferred to a Dallas hospital, where she died from her injuries.

Another painter, Jerry Gaston, also suffered severe burns from the explosion.

On behalf of the deceased, Chris Chamberlain, individually and estate representative, Frances Boyd, Kaitlin Wilson, Laurin Wilson, and Don Wilson as next friend of Madalin Wilson filed the product liability lawsuit against the water heater's manufacturer, A.O. Smith Corporation, on Jan. 15 in the Marshall division of the Eastern District of Texas.

"The water heater was defectively designed, manufactured and sold because it was not equipped with a flame or spark arrestor, which would prevent a flashback or explosion when combustible or flammable fumes are in the vicinity of or in close proximity to the water heater," the suit argues.

The plaintiffs also argue that the manufacturer knew that the water heater could explode and start fires because of previous similar incidents and by its own testing.

Causes of action filed against the defendant include negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty.

On behalf of the deceased, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for physical pain, mental pain and anguish, medical expenses, burial and funeral expenses. The family is seeking damages for mental anguish, pecuniary loss, loss of companionship and society.

Longview attorneys Blake C. Erskine of Erskine and McMahon LLC and Dan Stroup are representing the plaintiffs.

Currently, defendant A. O. Smith Corporation has not responded to the allegations.

U.S. District Judge T. John Ward will preside over the litigation.

Case No 2:09cv00019

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