Estimated 226K Smoke, Carbon Monoxide Detectors RecalledLast updated on: April 19, 2022
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From fire drills in elementary schools to building safety codes, we take many life-saving precautions to guard against fires. Yet, every year fires still result in some of the most heartbreaking personal injuries, and many of the most tragic cases are the result of faulty fire alarm systems. Often, these accidents are entirely avoidable through proper design, installation, and maintenance. Our smoke and carbon monoxide injury lawyers are here to help.
When these accidents occur, victims frequently struggle to secure satisfactory compensation. At Zinda Law Group, we believe no personal injury victim should lack excellent legal representation. If you or a loved one were injured in a fire, do not hesitate to speak with one of our smoke and carbon monoxide injury lawyers today. Call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 to schedule your initial, 100% free consultation with an experienced injury lawyer near you.
Case studies: the importance of proper household safety alarm installation and maintenance
Recently, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Reported that over 200,000 smoke detectors were recalled due to their failure to alert consumers of a fire or carbon monoxide hazard.
The importance of proper installation and maintenance of household fire and smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors is difficult to understate. It is superseded only by the necessity to heed their warnings when they signal something is wrong. No one can deny that properly functioning fire, smoke, and carbon monoxide gas detection systems help save lives.
The following case studies reveal how:
Case Study No. 1 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
According to an inspection conducted nine months before the fire, the building was equipped with six smoke detectors and three carbon monoxide detectors—purportedly, all were functional. An official for the Philadelphia Housing Authority reported that two batteries and two smoke detectors were replaced as a result of the inspection.
However, according to the Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner, the building was equipped with only four smoke detectors at the time of the fire—none were functioning. The detectors operated on 10-year lithium batteries.
Read more: Vogt, Adrienne, et al. “At least 13 dead in fire at Philadelphia row home.” CNN, 5 Jan. 2022.
Case Study No. 2 – Indianapolis, Indiana
On March 30, 2022, Indianapolis fire officials responded to a fire on the first floor in a three-story apartment building. The structure contained 12 units and housed 20 people.
A total of 13 people were injured; 10 were children, including a 21-one-day-old infant. One parent jumped through a second-story window to escape the blaze. Further, two of the units were occupied by hearing-impaired people, though their apartments were not equipped with “silent” alarms designed to alert the hearing impaired.
Though the apartment complex owners maintained working alarms in common areas like hallways and gyms, it was up to individual tenants to keep alarms within their units. According to the Indianapolis Fire Department, some units in the building had mounts for smoke alarms with no alarms attached. Other alarms in the building were installed but not operating.
Some alarms did go off. However, due to a history of “false alarms,” some residents failed to evacuate before the building was filled with smoke and fire.
Read more: Kendall, Kaitlyn. “Fire officials stress smoke alarms’ importance after 13 injured in Indianapolis apartment fire.” WRTV Indianapolis, 31 Mar. 2022.
Case Study No. 3 – Spring Valley, New York
On the afternoon of March 9, 2022, firefighters responded to an apartment fire in Spring Valley, New York. When they arrived, flames and smoke were spewing from the windows and balconies. Ultimately, dozens of people were evacuated and 24 families were left displaced.
Among those trapped in the upper floors by the top-floor fire were a toddler and three adults. All four were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation. The 2-year-old boy was carried by a firefighter down seven flights of stairs through billows of black smoke.
According to the Rockland County Office of Buildings and Codes, the apartment complex contained over one hundred code violations. Of the inspected units, none had smoke alarms in the bedrooms. Of the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms tested, all failed; further, there were no audio or visual alarms sounding during the fire.
Read more: Cluter, Nancy, Steve Lieberman. “Rockland turns up 100-plus violations after Spring Valley apartment fire.” Rockland/Westchester Journal News, 18 Mar. 2022.
Fire alarm statistics
Fires move very rapidly. In many cases, you may have less than two minutes to escape from a house fire. Interestingly, homes filled with synthetic materials generally burn much more quickly than those with natural materials.
Even so, fire alarms have become increasingly common in American homes over the past four decades, drastically reducing the number of house fire fatalities. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), only one quarter of homes in the United States had smoke alarms in 1977. By 2000, telephone surveys found that the number had increased to 96%.
The NFPA further reports that there were 734,000 home fires in 1980. By 2018, the number had steadily decreased to 363,000. Similarly, home fires resulted in 5,200 deaths in 1980. By 2018, the number had decreased to 2,720.
In a separate, narrower study, the NFPA reports that smoke alarms were present in nearly three quarters (74%) of home fires reported between 2014–2018. Yet almost three out of five home-fire deaths occurred in properties with no smoke alarms (41%) or in which smoke alarms failed to operate (16%). In other words, the death rate per 1,000 reported home fires was more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms as it was in homes with working smoke alarms.
Of course, fire alarms do not always work. However, more often than not, fire alarm failure is entirely preventable. Of the 24,300 home fires considered large enough to activate a smoke alarm, the reasons alarms failed to operate can be broken down as follows:
- missing or disconnected battery: 10,000 (41%)
- dead or discharged battery: 6,200 (26%)
- unclassified reason for failure: 2,600 (11%)
- lack of cleaning: 1,800 (7%)
- hardwired power failure, shutoff, or disconnect: 1,400 (6%)
- defective unit: 1,400 (6%)
- improper installation or placement: 900 (4%)
Read more: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Smoke Alarms in U.S. Home Fires (2021); National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Estimating Smoke Alarm Effectiveness and Spatial Distribution in Homes (2020).
Fire alarm installation and maintenance tips
More importantly than stopping fires, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms give you and your family an opportunity to escape when a fire occurs or carbon monoxide gas is leaking. To properly serve this purpose, correct installation and maintenance is key. The following tips will help ensure that your alarms operate optimally when you need them most.
Install Alarms Throughout Your Home
Install alarms in every room and on every level of your home. Because closed doors may slow the spread of smoke, heat, and fire, alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area. In the basement, smoke alarms should be installed at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the next level.
Ideally, alarms should be interconnected throughout the home. When one sounds, they will all sound. Larger homes need more alarms—do not cut corners.
Install Alarms in High Locations
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height. Remember, smoke rises. Therefore, smoke alarms should be on the ceiling or high on a wall.
Mount smoke alarms in the middle of the ceiling when ceiling mounted. If that is not possible, mount detectors on the wall at least three feet away from a corner and within 12 inches from the ceiling. If you have ceilings that are pitched, install the alarm within 36 inches of the peak.
Also, keep alarms away from drafts created by fans or air ducts. The airflow can reduce the effectiveness of your alarms.
Test Alarms and Replace Batteries Regularly
In general, there are three ways to power your alarm system: (1) standard replaceable batteries, (2) 10-year batteries, and (3) hardwiring. In all cases, the NFPA recommends testing your smoke alarms at least once a month to ensure they are working.
When replacing standard batteries, follow the user manual, which should include a full list of approved batteries for your alarm. Standard batteries should be replaced every 6 months or when a low battery “chirp” occurs, whichever comes first.
You should also replace your alarms—battery and all—under the following conditions:
- every 10 years (check the date of manufacturing on the back label);
- if the alarm sounds an end-of-life signal;
- if the alarm fails a monthly operability test; and
- after a fire.
Reduce False Alarms
When installing alarms in kitchens and other areas where smoke is likely to safely trigger alarms, keep them away from appliances to reduce false alarms. They should be at least 10 feet from the stove. Absolutely never ignore alarms without verifying whether there is a fire!
Read more: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), What Kind of Smoke Alarm Should I Buy?
fire alarm Consumer Alerts in recent years
In recent years, there have been at least three prominent consumer product recalls involving smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, these three recalls effected upwards of 700,000 units.
In March 2018, Kidde issued a recall impacting about 452,000 “dual-sensor smoke alarms” in the United States. Additionally, about 40,000 identical units sold in Canada were also recalled. The hazard is described as follows: “A yellow cap left on during the manufacturing process can cover one of the two smoke sensors and compromise the smoke alarm’s ability to detect smoke, posing a risk of consumers not being alerted to a fire in their home.”
Three years later, in May 2021, Kidde issued a recall impacting about 226,000 Kidde “TruSense Smoke Alarms” and “Combination Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarms.” The hazard was not explained in detail, but only described generally: “The smoke alarm and the combination smoke/carbon monoxide (CO) alarm can fail to alert consumers to a fire.”
A year after, in March 2022, Universal Security Instruments (USI) issued a recall impacting about 8,000 “2-in-1 Photoelectric Smoke & Fire + Carbon Monoxide Alarms.” The hazard was explained in only slightly more detail: “The alarms can fail to alert consumers to the presence of a hazardous level of carbon monoxide, posing a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or death. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas.”
Read more: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Consumer Product Recall Database.
Products Liability: Securing Compensation for Defective Fire/smoke/carbon monoxide Alarms
If you or a loved one were injured due to a defective household hazard alarm device such as a smoke and fire alarm, you are likely entitled to compensation. Determining who is liable for your injury can be more difficult than it may at first seem, so you are highly advised to speak with a product liability attorney as soon as possible.
Modern manufacturing practices are extremely complex, and products pass through numerous hands before ever reaching consumers. For example, each component of a manufactured item may be created in a separate facility—maybe even in separate countries—before they are assembled in yet another facility. Products then pass through numerous hands as they are distributed to warehouses and, eventually, to store shelves.
As a result, every day consumers are left vulnerable because they have no way of protecting themselves against imperceptible defects introduced somewhere in the manufacturing and distribution process. Products liability is an area of law meant to solve this problem by holding manufacturers and distributers accountable for the injuries caused by their defective products.
Defects generally fall into three categories:
- design defects, which are inherent to the product,
- manufacturing defects, which occur during assembly and may be limited to only a few finished products, and
- defects in marketing, which may be based on improper instructions or a failure to warn of inherent dangers in the products.
Depending on the facts of your case and the governing law, your products liability attorney may choose from a number of legal theories when arguing your case. Three of the most common are negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty of fitness.
This is by far the most common cause of action in all personal injury cases. It requires proving three elements. If any element is not proven, the plaintiff’s case fails. The elements are:
1. Duty: the obligation to protect others from unreasonable risk of injury
2. Breach: the failure to meet that obligation
3. Causation: a close causal connection between the action and the injury
4. Damages: the loss suffered
In all cases, the first element—duty—is the legal threshold. Without a duty, there can be no breach, causation, or harm. In a products liability case, manufacturers and distributors have a duty to take reasonable precautions to ensure that their products do not harm consumers. Injuries caused by a breach of this duty may entitle injured parties to compensation.
“Strict” liability allows a defending party to be held liable regardless of the “reasonableness” of their actions. In other words, a defending party may be strictly liable for injuries caused by their products even if they took maximum precautions to ensure that no injuries would occur. Because strict liability essentially eliminates the first two elements of negligence, it is a very powerful plaintiff’s tool where applicable.
Warranty of Fitness
When a manufacturer or vendor puts a product on the market for sale, it typically comes with a warranty guaranteeing that the product is fit and safe to use for its advertised purpose. For example, if a vendor advertises a fire alarm as loud enough to resonate throughout a certain square footage of a house, they may breach the warranty of fitness if the alarm does not actually meet those specifications. A violation of the warranty of fitness may also lead to liability.
At the end of the day, products liability can present a number of unique difficulties for plaintiffs. Again, modern manufacturing and distribution processes are very complex, which often makes it difficult to prove when and where a defect was introduced. In these cases, the attention of a skilled personal injury lawyer is essential.
OUR Product liability attorneys CAN HELP
Personal injury accidents involving fires and carbon monoxide poisoning are some of the most tragic. What’s more, they are often entirely avoidable.
At Zinda Law Group, our personal injury lawyers have helped thousands of injury victims on their path toward compensation. We have the experience and resources to help victims of smoke inhalation, for example, build the strongest cases possible and seek the compensation they deserve. We would like to see if we can help your family, too.
We believe that injury victims should never have to worry about their ability to afford legal representation. That is why our smoke and carbon monoxide injury lawyers offer 100% free consultations and why you pay nothing unless we win your case. That’s our No Win, No Fee Guarantee.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident due to the failure of a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide poisoning, call Zinda Law Group today at (800) 863-5312 for a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury lawyers near you.
Meetings with attorneys are available by appointment only.