Woman blames hot oil burn on defective skillet

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Jul. 8, 2010, 5:34pm

SHERMAN-Tonja Littrell is suing the manufacturer of a skillet which she claims broke and caused hot oil to spill and splash on her causing third-degree burns.

Tonja Littrell and her husband, Jeff, individually and as next friends of their minor child, filed suit against J. C. Penney on June 3 in Collin County District Court. Arguing Littrell's claims will exceed the $75,000 minimum requirement for federal jurisdiction, the defendant removed the case to the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division on July 2.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs purchased a collection of cookware from J.C. Penney under the name "J.C. Penney Home Collection." The set of cookware included a skillet, manufactured in China, which is 12 inches in diameter.

The skillet was designed and manufactured to have an 8-inch handle, attached to the skillet by six spot welds, the suit states.

"On or about August 23, 2008, Tonja Littrell used the Skillet to fry potatoes for her family dinner," the complaint states. "After the potatoes were cooked and removed from the hot oit, Tonja Littrell carried the Skillet toward the back door to dispose of the hot oil. As she reached the back door, suddenly and without warning, the Skillet separated from the handle."

The suit states that as the skillet dropped to the floor the lid came off a "fireball erupted" and the hot oil splashed over Littrell.

Littrell claims she instantly suffered second- and third-degree burns.

According to the plaintiffs, the skillet was defective and unreasonably dangerous due to the use of spot welds when attaching the handle to the skillet and the use of different types of metal in the handle and skillet body.

J.C. Penney denies the allegations and argues they had no control over the acts and omissions of third parties, that the skillet was "state of the art," and that the skillet was being misused and it was the misuse that resulted in the incident.

Causes of action filed against J.C. Penney include defects in design and manufacturing, retailer liability, negligence and breach of warranty.

In addition, the plaintiffs argue that safer alternative designs were available which would have prevented the accident, including designs with mechanical fastening devices such as bolts, nuts or screws.

Tonja Littrell is seeking damages for medical care and expenses, physical pain and suffering, physical impairment, loss of earnings, loss of earning capacity, loss of consortium, loss of parental consortium, disfigurement, property damages, mental anguish, fear of future disease or condition, cost of medical monitoring and prevention.

Jeff Littrell is seeking damages for loss of consortium, property damages, mental anguish, loss of household services, and medical care and services.

On behalf of the minor, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for loss of consortium and mental anguish.

The plaintiffs are represented by McKinney attorney J. Gregory Whitten.

U. S. District Judge Richard A. Schell is assigned to the case.

Case No. 4:10cv00333

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