We have settled a product liability case on behalf of our client, a nurse who suffered severe burns to her knees and shins after exposure to a Saltillo tile cleaning product. The case was brought against the manufacturer of the tile stripper along with the Mexican tile store where she purchased it. The tile stripper was formulated and produced in Arizona, and it was sold in a bottle under the Mexican tile store's own name. It was a private label product that was unique to this one chain of tile stores.
Our client went to the Mexican tile store seeking advice on how to strip and clean Saltillo tile in her home. The sales woman advised her that the process was easy, and it was a do-it-yourself project. The client left the store with the necessary supplies, including the stripper, which is an exceptionally corrosive and dangerous product.
While using the product, our client spilled some on the floor. She then kneeled down to clean it up with a rag. When she kneeled into the product, it saturated her jeans. Unaware of the potential risk that it presented, she continued working. All the while, the chemicals were burning her skin. Because of the unique chemical burn process, she did not feel pain and was unaware of the damage that was being done.
In the end, our client suffered full thickness burns over 9% of her body. She required xenografts, temporary skin grafts accomplished using pig skin. And she endured a very painful debridement and post-burn treatment process. She has severe and disfiguring scars on both of her legs, especially in her knee area.
We filed suit against both the chemical company that made the solution as well as the store that sold it, under its own private label. Our allegations were that the label was inadequate and that the store, itself, was negligent in how it sold the product. Specifically, our position was that the label on the product was inadequate. It did not advise users of the true hazard that it presented. The product label did not comply with Federal and State chemical warning requirements. Our warning expert, Michael Reale, PhD, testified that the product should have had a plain and easy to understand warning that advised users that one hazard of the product was skin burns. That warning was absent, as were other important hazard warnings and instructions.
Unfortunately, as is becoming more often the case, the chemical manufacturer did not have valid insurance that covered this claim. However, after researching the company's insurance situation, we uncovered a potential insurance bad faith issue. Essentially, the agent sold the chemical Company full coverage. Just a few weeks after collecting the premium for the full coverage, the insurance company substantively modified coverage and exclude protection for products that the company made. Of course, this is the precise reason why the company bought insurance in the first place - to protect itself from claims arising out of the dangerous products they manufacture.
Based on the Arizona Spring Court's recent decision, Gitlin v. Webb, and based on Arizona's strong bad faith law, we were able to convince both the insurance agent and the offending insurance company to come to a global mediation. At that meeting, we reached a settlement with all the parties involved.
From the beginning it was an important to our client that the warning label on the tile stripper be changed and brought into compliance with the relevant standards. As part of the settlement agreement, both defendants agreed to modify the label and redesign it to bring it in line with current best practices.