Wal-Mart must defend a claim that a lamp with a clamp caused a fatal fire, Chief U.S. District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel ruled on July 30.
She denied motions to dismiss claims that the estate of Gina Breeze brought against Wal-Mart and lamp maker Bayco Products.
She allowed a claim for punitive damages, finding the case permitted an exception from a general rule that such claims do not survive the death of an injured party.
On Dec. 27, 2017, Breeze notified her landlord in Wayne City that water pipes in her home froze.
The landlord purchased a clamp light and a 250 watt bulb from Wal-Mart on Jan. 3, 2018, and placed them in a crawl space under the home on Jan. 4.
Fire broke out on Jan. 5, resulting in Breeze’s death.
Estate administrators David Breeze and Heather Fletcher sued last year, claiming Bayco and Wal-Mart marketed the light as safe with bulbs up to 300 watts.
According to the suit, Bayco stated it was suitable for use in all spaces.
Wal-Mart allegedly stated it could be used to prevent freezing of water pipes, car radiators, and pumps, and stocked 250 watt bulbs on shelves next to clamp lights.
The allegations convinced Rosenstengel to set aside for the moment a rule that protects sellers from liability.
She wrote that the estate claimed Bayco and Wal-Mart were aware of the defective nature of the clamp light.
She also wrote that Wal-Mart contended it had no knowledge, and it might ultimately prevail in that argument.
“This is a factual issue, however, which must be resolved at a later stage in this action,” she wrote.
“Defendants seek to argue that the damages alleged by plaintiffs are vague and insubstantial, comparing them to claims of emotional and psychological harms that have been deemed insufficient by courts in the past.
“Harm such as the death of the decedent in this action is very real and substantial, even if it may not readily correspond to a precise monetary value.”
She wrote that the injuries, while real enough to allow standing, “are difficult to measure in dollar terms and may ultimately result in a relatively small award.”
She wrote that allowing claims for punitive damages would help to ensure that plaintiffs do not receive a minimal award should they prevail on the merits.
This article was first published in Madison Record.