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Appliance fires and the Consumer Protection Act

In the most important case concerning the Consumer Protection Act 1987 this year, the Technology and Construction Court revisited the principles to be applied when considering a manufacturer’s statutory liability.

Technology and Construction Court

The case is Michael Hufford v Samsung Electronics (UK) Limited [2014], which was heard at the Technology and Construction Court in Birmingham. It concerned a fire which the claimant claimed originated inside his Samsung fridge freezer. The defendant contended that the fire started externally. The court was therefore required to determine, on the balance of probabilities, what caused the fire, based on the parties’ expert analyses.

Liability for fire

Samsung successfully defended the claim and His Honour Judge David Grant found that the fire had begun externally. However, this case is interesting because it provides a rare opportunity to see how the court will determine liability in fire cases specifically relating to appliances. As many will know, these cases do not often get to trial.

In reaching his judgment, HHJ Grant found that there were several points to consider when determining legal liability in such cases, as follows:

  • It is necessary to have regard to all circumstances of the evidence adduced (thereby following the findings in the decision of Milton Keynes BC v Nulty [2013]);
  • The court should not have to embark on a detailed analysis of exactly how the injury or peril was caused;
  • The court should not make findings on the cause merely on the basis that one seems more probable than the other: the court should be satisfied of the cause by reference to the evidence;
  • The burden of proof to prove the existence of a defect (albeit an unspecified one) remains on the claimant;
  • A claimant does not have to identify or specify the defect alleged: it is enough for them to prove the existence of a defect in broad and general terms, e.g. “a fault in the electrics” (applying the decision in Lexus Financial Services v Russell [2008]);
  • There is no burden of proof on a defendant. They can argue that the fire had an alternative cause which was not a defect within the meaning of the Act, but they do not have to prove it. The question for the court is whether the claimant has proved the cause on the balance of probabilities;
  • However, if the defendant relies on a statutory defence to action (under Section 4 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987) then it is for the defendant to prove that that statutory defence is made out, by identifying the defect in question that they say did not exist at the time of manufacture.

When it comes to appliance fires, this analysis by the judge appears to be common sense in view of the legislation and draws together the findings of several important cases in this area. It is particularly important that these principles are followed when the court is faced with several competing causes, so that it does not misdirect itself where it is struggling to establish why a fire occurred.

For more information on any of the issue raised in this article or on property insurance litigation matters in general, contact Joseph Warren by email: jwarren@lyonsdavidson.co.uk or tel: 0117 904 5758.

Posted on Dec 14th, 2014 by Lyons Davidson