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Candle-Explosion Suit May Singe Manufacturer

(CN) - A woman who claims that a Bath & Body Works candle flared up, exploded and severely burned her may have a negligence case, a federal judge ruled.

Placida Marte had lit a three-wick, 14.5-ounce Slatkin & Co. candle bought at Bath & Body Works and placed it on a shelf in her bathroom before taking a shower in July 2012, according to the complaint.

Having left the room at one point, Marte returned upon hearing the fire alarm and allegedly found that the candle's flame had "enlarged and extended a large distance" above the jar.

It looked "like a torch, with the flame and smoke searing against the walls and nearly to the ceiling," Marte's complaint states.

To extinguish the flame, Marte allegedly picked up the candle and began moving it toward the sink, but the glass jar broke before she made it there.

When the candle exploded, hot wax splattered onto Marte's torso and arms, giving her third-degree burns needing immediate and continuing medical attention, according to the complaint.

Marte sued Bath & Body Works and Slatkin in New Jersey, alleging defective design and failure to warn.

In dismissing the punitive damages claims last year, a federal judge rejected claims that Bath & Body Works and Slatkin should have known of the product's hazards, based on an alleged web database of consumer complaints about several of the defendants' candles.

Marte then moved to add manufacturer Global Tech Industries Inc. as a defendant and to replead her claim for punitive damages, relying on 10 consumer complaints allegedly found on www.saferproducts.gov dealing with similar candle incidents.

A Slatkin or Bath & Body Works representative replied to each complaint that the products were tested and met safety standards, and often requested feedback, Marte claims.

Four of the complaints allegedly relate to the same type of product and incident as Marte's, while the six others involve candles burning through their containers prior to her injury.

U.S. District Judge James Clark found last week that Marte had not waited too long to add a new party.

"Plaintiff filed her proposed FAC on Dec. 13, 2013, the date set by the court for amendments, and motion papers four days later," Clark wrote, abbreviating first amended complaint. "Furthermore, Global Tech was not discovered until December 2013. Accordingly, the court finds there is no undue delay or unfair prejudice in joining Global Tech at this stage, and grants plaintiff leave to amend to add defendant Global Tech."

But the judge rejected Marte's attempt to replead her claim for punitive damages.

"In the first instance, nowhere except paragraph 28 of the FAC, does plaintiff allege defendants act with 'actual malice' nor does plaintiff even raise the specter of any 'evil-minded' acts," Clark wrote. "Instead, the majority of plaintiff's claims are geared towards wanton and willful disregard - that defendants were aware of the dangers and ignored them, continuing to sell a hazardous product. However, the complaints themselves show that defendants responded to complaints and asked for more information. What is missing from plaintiff's FAC is the element of egregious disregard for the safety of others. This is not to say that a party may simply acknowledge a complaint and be forever protected from punitive damages. Merely, the court finds that as pleaded, plaintiff alleges no set of facts through which the court may infer the level of callousness necessary for punitive damages. Thus, the court finds plaintiff's proposed amendment for punitive damages futile."

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