Rick Morrison, a lawyer in our firm who handles product liability claims, settled a case for a client whose mother died tragically of thermal burns when the Blair cotton chenille robe she was wearing caught fire while she was cooking at her stove. The victim was preparing her breakfast when the sleeve of the robe came in close proximity with the stove’s gas flame and ignited within less than a second and proceeded to burn rapidly and intensely. In fact, the Blair robe burned almost completely off of her body.
The Blair robe was defective and unreasonably dangerous because its loose fitting design and fiber content caused it to ignite easily and burn rapidly and intensely. The robe provided no protection to the wearer even from tiny open flames or heat sources because it was so flammable and difficult to extinguish.
Blair began selling its “cotton chenille” robe in 2003 and sold over 172,000 of its chenille robes between 2003 and 2008. It’s the most flammable general-approved garment ever sold. The robe, which has been recalled, is associated with at least ten deaths, 70 injuries and over 400 catch-on-fire incidents. Eight of the death victims were elderly women who were cooking at their stoves when their robes ignited.
This tragic case demonstrates what can happen when a corporation places its profits over safety. Blair selected A-One, a company located in Pakistan, to make the robe because it was cheaper to outsource the robe overseas. Blair chose A-One to make the robe despite its knowledge that A-One had a history of making chenille products for Blair which were dangerous, extremely flammable and which failed flammability testing. In addition, Blair did relatively nothing to assure that A-1 employed any quality control measures back in Pakistan.
Further, Blair never performed even one flammability test on a finished robe prior to putting the robes on the market. Instead, Blair adopted a policy that it would only require what is known in the garment industry as a “FFA § 1610 test” to be performed overseas on the raw fabric before the manufacturing process, but not afterwards. This is a test that is so minimal in assessing the flammability of clothing, that even common newspaper will pass the test. In other words, if you take a piece of newspaper, put it in a 1610 test device, test it, the newspaper will pass and be considered safe for garment flammability purposes. That should shock the consuming public.
The first time Blair ever conducted the minimum flammability test on a finished robe was after it started receiving complaints from customers that the robes were causing burn injuries. In March 2009, Blair ordered that flammability testing be performed on samples from eight of the robes in Blair’s possession. The testing was done by SGS, a reputable independent testing laboratory chosen by Blair. Those test results showed that six out of the eight robes “failed” the minimum 1610 test. The results also showed that after the manufacturing process, the robe samples burned four times faster than the raw materials which had been tested overseas. Blair had no explanation for this. It was only after receiving these test results that Blair decided to initiate the recall and stop selling the cotton chenille robe.
Blair defended Rick’s case by arguing that the recall was a mistake – that the testing facility misinterpreted the test and wrongly determined that the robe failed Federal Standards. However, Blair did admit that the robe ignited and burned at an alarmingly rapid rate. The truth is Blair had no legitimate defense in this tragic case. The case was pending in a federal court in Alabama when it settled just two weeks before the scheduled trial date. The terms of the settlement are confidential at the request of Blair. Rick did a very good job for his client in this case. We hope Blair learned a lesson on marketing and safety in this case.
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