$1,550,000 :: Aguilar v. Underwriters Laboratories

SETTLEMENT : Defective Christmas tree lights caused fire. Case settled during trial.

In the early morning hours of December 24, 1992, a 3-year-old boy was sleeping alone in a room that had a Christmas tree in it. At some point, the tree caught on fire and the boy’s parents, who were sleeping in adjoining bedrooms, woke and removed themselves and the child from the scene of the fire.

The boy suffered significant physical injuries as a result of the fire, including substantial burns on his face, neck, hands, arms, and upper chest area. All of which required hospitalization and extensive plastic surgeries. He had also been rendered unconscious by the billowing smoke and neuropsychological testing showed brain injuries that would negatively impact the boy academically and vocationally in the future.

The cause of the fire was believed to be a faulty type of Christmas lights and the boys’ parents hired Lawrence R. Booth of The Law Offices of Booth & Koskoff to represent them in a premises lawsuit against their landlord for a faulty electrical system and a product liability and negligence lawsuit against the retail store who sold the lights, the lights’ importer, and the inspection laboratory who approved the lights for sale in the United States.

The parents claimed they had purchased the Christmas lights at the defendant retail store just a short time before the accident. They paid cash and did not keep the receipt but they did save the box. While the box did not identify the retailer in question it did give the name of the Chinese manufacturer along with the type of lights. The lights themselves were destroyed by the fire and the remnants discarded by the fire department. It took several years of continual investigation before one of the law firms’ investigators discovered the same lights while shopping in Orange County. These exemplar lights enabled the lawsuit to move forward.

The defendant landlord, retail store, and importer all settled before trial. The defendant inspection laboratory, however, proceeded to trial contending that the lights were not defective. They instead argued that it was more likely that the Christmas tree was set afire by the minor plaintiff than by any manner of light defection.

Thanks to a number of expert witnesses and the evidence collected and presented by Booth & Koskoff disputing such claims, the defendant inspection laboratory ultimately settled for a confidential amount before trials’ end. This amount as well as the settled amount of $254,414 from the defendant importer; $50,000 from the defendant landlord; and $150,000 from the defendant retail store collectively added to over $1,550,000 secured on behalf of the plaintiffs.

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