Alarm Maker Averts Blame for Fatal Fire

     (CN) — Smoke alarms are not to blame after a 4-year-old died in a fire caused by a faulty electrical outlet in her bedroom, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled.
     The 23-page decision says Latosha and Chad Barley were awoken on the night of May 20, 2011, by one of two smoke alarms in their Castleberry home.
     A fire had started in 4-year-old Neveah’s bedroom, and the Barleys were unable to rescue her. They did escape the mobile home themselves, however, along with their 9-month-old son who had been sleeping in their bedroom.
     The family sued the maker of their smoke alarms, BRK Brands, saying the ionization-only devices were defective in that they are supposedly triggered only by fast-flaming fires as opposed to slow, smoldering fires.
     Only one claim went to the jury in Conecuh Circuit Court, and the couple appealed after the verdict went to BRK.
     The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed last week, seeing no evidence that there was “a safer, practical, alternative to the BRK ionization smoke alarms.”
     Though the Barleys pointed to a dual-sensor smoke alarm — a device that relies on ionization for flaming fires and photoelectric technology for smoldering fires — the court found the example unavailing.
     “The dual-sensor smoke-alarm design put forth by Latosha is not, in fact, a safer, practical, alternative design to an ionization smoke alarm; rather, it is a design for a different product altogether,” Justice Lyn Stuart wrote on behalf of the five-member court.
     While Neveah died in the fire, BRK’s ionization alarm still saved three lives that day, the court found.
     Stuart noted that this may not have been the case if the family had the choice to purchase a more expensive, dual-sensor alarm.
     Chad “Barley’s testimony regarding whether he could have afforded the higher cost of such an alarm was mixed, and there is at least the possibility that the total absence of less expensive ionization smoke alarms from the market would have resulted in no smoke alarm being present in their mobile home at the time of the fire and, consequently, three additional deaths,” the opinion says.

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