BIC not held accountable for child's "tragic" burn injuries, even though imported lighter incorporated "readily removeable" child guards
A three-year-old child suffered second- and third-degree burns of his torso, arms and face when he attempted to unbotton his shirt with a BIC lighter that he picked up off his father's pick-up truck floor. His mother sued, arguing that the BIC model J-26 lighter was defective and dangerous. She also argued that it did not comply with federal regulations because it was too easy to disable the child-proofing safety mechanism.
The trial judge allowed BIC's expert to testify that the Consumer Product Safety Commission was aware of similar incidents but did not attempt to make similar allegations of non-compliance. The judge also failed to declare a mis-trial after BIC's attorney repeatedly suggested that the child's father was negligent in causing the child's injury. The jury returned a verdict that BIC was not responsible for the child's injury and the family appealed. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's rulings and the jury award in favor of BIC.
The appellate court concluded that the CPSC's failure to vind a violation by BIC in importing the J-26, despite having "taken some actions" to investigate the J-26, made the CPSC's actions relevant and admissible with regard to the claim that [BIC] "knowingly or willfully violated a federal consumer product safety rule."