As winter sets in and temperatures begin dropping we have a chilling reminder on the use of space heaters.
A federal judge in Santa Ana has upheld a jury verdict of nearly $60 million against Sunbeam Products Inc. for a deadly house fire jurors say started with a defective heater.
For the Shinedlings there are still smiles.
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Joyful, competitive moments of a father and his daughters, sandwiched between their collective sorrow at the loss of wife and mother Amy Shinedling.
“Her laugh, her conversations, just a simple hug,” Kenneth Shinedling says, remembering his wife.
Amy Shinedling died, unable to escape a house fire in 2011. Awakened by flames and smoke, her husband says her only thoughts were of their daughters.
“And she told me to go get the girls,” he remembers. “That was the last time that I saw her.”
Court documents say the fire was started by a Sunbeam Radiant Quartz heater, which ignited clothing that fell from a hamper. The heater itself has written warnings to keep drapery and furnishings at least three feet away.
Also, its design boasts heat safe protection — technology that’s supposed to trigger an automatic shut off in an overheat situation. Shinedling says that technology factored into his purchase.
“It should have turned off,” he says.
His attorney agrees.
“Sunbeam knew that the safety feature on this heater would not work and didn’t warn the consumer,” says Arash Homompour, Kenneth Shinedling’s attorney.
A federal court jury agreed, awarding the Shinedling’s nearly $60 million in damages.
Sunbeam appealed the verdict, requesting a new trial and lost, the judge concluding: “Mr. Shinedling should have been warned never to go to sleep with the heater on because of the danger of combustible items being knocked in front of the heater during the nighttime.”
“If they are going to say that this thing has a safety shut off it should shut off,” Kenneth Shinedling says.
In its motion for a new trial, Sunbeam argues that “passion and prejudice” tainted the verdict. Calling the $60 million judgment excessive, lawyers for Sunbeam write, “where an obligation of any kind appears to create a right to unconscionable and grossly oppressive damages contrary to substantial justice, no more than reasonable damages can be recovered.”
A recent study of space heater safety by Harvard University’s Environmental Health and Safety group found that space heaters cause 25,000 home fires each year, resulting in 6,000 emergency room visits.
Amy Shinedling never made it to a hospital.
Youngest daughter Ava is adjusting.
“I help my sisters with their hair, picking out their outfits,” says Addison Shinedling, the eldest sister.
Addison is role modeling for her sisters as best she can, but it’s middle daughter Alexia that sums up the finality of the family’s loss: Amy’s presence, wisdom and voice.
Sunbeam did not respond to numerous I-Team requests for comment. Its appeal of the verdict continues.
For more information on space heater safety, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission site.