Landmark cases

Stock Pot n Pan


John recovered $27 million in a product liability case for a little girl who suffered horrible burns after a pressure cooker exploded. Her grandmother was bathing her in the kitchen sink, next to the pressure cooker, when the tragedy occurred. The incident was investigated by police, fire fighters, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, none of whom found any defect.

John conducted his own investigation. The multiple engineering experts he hired also found no defect. He was almost at a dead-end when he noticed that Samantha’s father had reported slipping on liquid outside the kitchen.

“Why would there be liquid on the floor outside the kitchen?” Uustal asked. He inspected the kitchen and reviewed the police photos yet again, and noticed tiny food particles scattered all over the ceiling. That’s when he knew the pressure cooker had opened under pressure. There was no other way to explain how the food had exploded onto so many surfaces, and why there would be liquid all over the floor. This moment changed everything for two reasons. First, it showed that something else had happened in the kitchen, something Samantha’s grandmother could not process or understand. Second, it proved that the pressure cooker was defective, because pressure cookers must be designed so that they cannot open under pressure.

A neighbor reported hearing Samantha’s grandmother shouting in the moments after the injury, “It exploded! It exploded!” Police photos from immediately after the incident showed the pressure cooker open. And Samantha’s burns were on her back as well as her front, which meant that hot liquid must have escaped. The pressure cooker release valve had activated in a startling and dangerous way, causing Samantha’s grandmother to grab the pressure cooker. A split-second later, the pressure cooker exploded open, forcing the pressure cooker out of her hands and shooting it into the sink along with some of the super-heated liquid that had been inside.

But how did the pressure cooker open under pressure when it had a pressure-activated lock? The Kelley/Uustal attorneys hired experts to do substantial and costly testing. But once again, numerous engineering experts could not find anything wrong. So Kelley | Uustal conducted additional testing in the firm’s own laboratory with the firm’s own testing staff. The testing turned out to be dangerous and came within inches off seriously injuring two Kelley | Uustal attorneys and Kelley | Uustal’s Critical Case Unit Director. But they discovered something: the subject pressure cooker had the wrong size lockbar. The lock did not actually lock. This was missed by the police, fire department, CPSC, and numerous engineering experts because it was a very slight difference in size on an internal, invisible part. Moreover, the company had fixed the problem after the first three years of manufacture (without reporting it), so the exemplars were not defective and showed no defect in testing. Uustal forced the defendant’s engineering expert to concede the defect in the lock, and the case settled.

The $27 million recovery will allow Samantha to get the best medical care, including plastic surgery and the most technologically advanced prosthetics.