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Repairman burned in kitchen settles suit for $2.5M 

David Baugher//April 18, 2022

Repairman burned in kitchen settles suit for $2.5M 

David Baugher//April 18, 2022

An unusual combination of product and premises liability has netted a $2.5 million settlement for a repairman who was badly burned in a kitchen explosion.

Osborn

Justin Osborn and Matthew Gambale of Osborn, Gambale, Beckley & Budd in Raleigh said that their 49-year-old client had been servicing a refrigeration unit that had stopped working at a commercial kitchen. After discovering coils covered in cooking grease, the client sprayed a cleaning product to remove the buildup. Suddenly, a fireball erupted catching his clothes alight and causing second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body. 

The client sued the manufacturer and distributor of the cleansing product, which Osborn said didn’t come with any warning that it was flammable. He said the defendants alleged contributory negligence, contending that the danger of aerosol products is well-known and doesn’t require a warning. 

“When we found a series of competitors that had similar products and still put the warning on the can, I think it gave them some pause about their defense,” he said. 

The client also sued the commercial kitchen itself. 

Gambale

“The big question for liability was what ignited this cleaning product, because in the kitchen there are a number of open flames in different places, and the fire department concluded there were too many ignition sources to really narrow it down,” he said. 

Osborn said his expert traced the likely source of ignition to a gas fryer unit. He said no warnings had been posted around the unit indicating the presence of an open flame. He also faulted the kitchen for his client’s slipping on the grease-coated floor as he tried to escape the flames. 

“We learned through our investigation that the floors were supposed to have slip-resistant nodules on these tiles, but the building owner was just using whatever they had on hand so the floor looked like a mosaic of different types of tiles, most of which were not suitable to be in a kitchen,” he said. 

He said the premises owners also argued contributory negligence. 

Osborn said there was little or no dispute over the extent of his client’s injuries, with more than $468,000 in past medical expenses. He estimated future bills and lost earnings at a million dollars. 

The names of all parties were kept confidential under the terms of the settlement.  

“He did everything right,” Osborn said of his client. “It was just such an unusual case where I think if one or both of the defendants, somebody, had put a warning on there, this wouldn’t have happened.” 

SETTLEMENT REPORT – PREMISES LIABILITY/PRODUCT LIABILITY 

Amount: $2.5 million 

Injuries alleged: Second- and third-degree burns, post-traumatic stress disorder 

Case name: Confidential 

Venue: Wake County Superior Court 

Case No.: Confidential 

Date of settlement: Feb. 16, 2022 

Special damages: $468,364.36 in past medical expenses, $1 million in future medical expenses 

Most helpful experts: Dr. James Shearer of Charlotte (plastic surgery) and Dr. Ann Neulicht of Raleigh (life care planner and vocational expert) 

Insurance carrier: Confidential 

Attorneys for plaintiff: Justin Osborn and Matthew Gambale of Osborn Gambale Beckley & Budd in Raleigh 

Attorneys for defendants: Confidential 

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