Suit Over Oil Finish Fire Scorches Home Depot

     (CN) – Home Depot sold a “misbranded hazardous” oil finish that started a fire when rags soaked in the substance allegedly spontaneously combusted, a federal judge ruled.
     John McGrath had used a can of Watco Teak Oil Finish to treat some outdoor furniture on June 20, 2011, and he rolled up the rags in a blanket and placed them in his garage when he was done.
     Hours later, a fire started in the McGraths’ garage and damaged their home. A fire marshal attributed the fire to the improper disposal of oil-soaked rags.
     John McGrath and his wife, Emilie McGrath, who had bought the oil at Home Depot, sued the retailer and the product’s manufacturer, Rust-Oleum Corp.
     Their claims for negligence, strict liability and breach of implied warranty are grounded on the idea that Home Depot and Rust-Oleum failed to warn consumers that Teak Oil Finish carries the risk of spontaneous combustion.
     Though the product’s the label does warn that the product is combustible, it does not reference linseed oil, which has the potential to cause rags, steel wool or waste products soaked in the finish to spontaneously combust when discarded improperly.
     The product label only lists its only component as “mineral spirits,” which is itself a hazardous substance under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA).
     Both sides moved for summary judgment, and U.S. District Judge John Padova partly sided with the McGraths on June 11.
     “For the purposes of the pending motions only, defendants do not dispute that the rags spontaneously caught fire,” he noted.
     Padova considered the label issue through the lens of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Federal Hazardous Substances Act Regulations, codified at Section 1500.126 of Title 16.
     “In sum, because 16 C.F.R. § 1500.127 requires ‘hazardous component[s]’ to be referenced on the product label, and because we conclude that linseed oil is a ‘hazardous component,’ which is not referenced on the Watco Teak Oil Finish label, we find as a matter of law that the product label violates § 1500.127 and is, consequently, a ‘misbranded hazardous substance,'” the ruling states. “We therefore grant plaintiffs’ motion insofar as it asks us to declare the Teak Oil Finish to be a ‘misbranded hazardous substance’ on that basis.”
     There is no basis, however, for the McGraths to claim that there is a similar requirement to list linseed oil on a label under Section 1261(p)(1)(B) of the FHSA.
     “Where, as here, the Teak Oil Finish is itself a hazardous substance and the label identifies it by its common or usual name, i.e., Teak Oil Finish, the FHSA does not also require that the label identify components that may contribute to the product’s hazards,” Padova wrote. “We therefore reject plaintiffs’ argument that § 1261(p)(1)(B) requires that the label identify linseed oil as one of the components of the product, and deny plaintiffs’ motion insofar as it asks us to declare the Teak Oil Finish to be a ‘misbranded hazardous substance’ on that basis.”
     Padova also declined to also rule that the product is misbranded because its “front label does not reference ‘spontaneous combustion’ even though it is a ‘principal hazard.'”
     “There is … no reasoned basis on which we could find that spontaneous combustion is a ‘principal hazard’ under the FHSA and we find, as a matter of pure logic, that a ‘principal hazard’ must be a danger that the statute considers sufficient to render a product a ‘hazardous substance,'” the ruling states. “Because spontaneous combustion is not such a danger, we conclude that it cannot constitute a ‘principal hazard’ under the FHSA.”
     Padova also declined to grant Rust-Oleum and Home Depot summary judgment on any of the claims.
     He said the parties would need to further develop the record before he could conclude whether the warnings on the can were prominently and conspicuously displayed as required by the FHSA.

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