Every year, ordinary people in California are injured because common household items that they assume to be safe turn out to be dangerous. Fans overheat and start fires. Hairdryers deliver serious electrical shocks to their users. Water heaters produce scalding showers when their thermostats fail. Products that are not in themselves dangerous can endanger occupants of a home or building when they do not work properly. A smoke alarm that fails to signal the presence of smoke may be responsible for needless deaths that would have been prevented if the alarm functioned as intended. The failure of a motion-activated light might cause a homeowner or visitor to trip over hazards that are hidden by darkness. As personal injury lawyers, we see the horrifying impact that dangerous or defective products have on families. We urge homeowners and consumers to do what they can to keep their families safe. Caution cannot always prevent an injury caused by a hidden danger, but awareness of the dangers posed by ordinary household goods may help families avoid a tragedy.
Protect Your FamilyTaking time every year to perform simple home maintenance can help keep your family safe. Here are some ideas:
- Check stair rails and tighten loose screws or replace worn anchors if the rails are not fastened securely.
- Make sure stair runners and area rugs are securely fastened to the floor.
- Check the cords on electrical appliances (such as toasters and blenders) as well as lamps. If they are frayed or you see bare wire, replace the cord (even if that means replacing the appliance).
- Add grab bars to your tub or shower. Install slip resistant materials if your tub or shower are slippery.
- Replace light bulbs that have burned out, particularly near outdoor entrances.
- If your smoke detector is not wired to house current, replace the batteries regularly. Better yet, consider hiring an electrician to install smoke detectors that connect to your home wiring.
- Repair any damaged steps that lead to your home entrances.
Deadly Household ProductsChildren and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the risks posed by defective household products. Homeowners and renters of all ages should be aware that products upon which they normally rely may prove to be deadly. Here are some examples:
- Household cleaners. The labels on many household cleaners identify toxic ingredients, but labels do not always make clear the long-term risks of exposure to ordinary cleaning products. Oven cleaners and stain removers typically contain high concentrations of butyl cellosolve (also known as 2-BE), a chemical that has been associated with reproductive problems. Inhaling ammonia over time may lead to kidney and liver damage. Air fresheners may contain phthalates, chemicals that cause hormonal abnormalities and birth defects. Upholstery shampoo, furniture polish, and drain cleaners have all been linked to health problems. Whenever you use a household cleaner, read the label carefully, wear rubber gloves, and avoid inhaling fumes that the product may emit.
- Toys. Toys are recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission more often than any other product category. The CPSC reports that toy-related injuries accounted for more than a quarter million emergency room visits in 2014. About 44% of those cases involved injuries to the child’s head or face. Riding toys were responsible for most of the toy-related fatalities involving children under age 15.
- Anti-bacterials. Triclosan, an antibacterial additive commonly used in soap and other personal care products, interferes with hormones that are critical to reproduction and the healthy development of organs, including the brain. Triclosan, which is absorbed through the skin, is no more effective in preventing the spread of germs than ordinary soap and water. A class action lawsuit against Colgate Palmolive for misleading consumers about the effectiveness of Triclosan was recently settled. As evidence of health problems associated with Triclosan continues to develop, product liability lawsuits against companies that use Triclosan are likely to be filed by injury victims.
- Insecticides and herbicides. Any chemical product that is meant to kill insects is capable of harming humans. For example, one of the active ingredients in Raid can affect the central nervous system, while a key ingredient in Round-Up has been linked to kidney damage. Direct or prolonged exposure to chemical pesticides or herbicides should be minimized. Gardeners might want to consider organic alternatives to chemical products.
- Furniture and appliances. Top-heavy items of furniture, appliances, and televisions pose a tipping risk when the manufacturer does not supply anchors or anti-tip devices. The failure to warn consumers of tipping dangers and/or the failure to provide safeguards against tipping contributes to consumer injuries and deaths. According to the CPSC, 38,000 accident victims were injured in tip-overs between 2000 and 2013. More than half of the injury victims were children. More than 400 of those victims died. About 84% of the fatal injury victims were age 10 or younger.
- Lawn and gardening equipment. Lawnmowers, chain saws, hedge trimmers, tillers, and other motorized equipment can cause serious injuries when they are not designed to protect users from injuries. Manufacturing defects can also turn ordinary gardening equipment into life-threatening tools.