Fire Pit Injury - Severe Burn Injuries Caused by Gasoline Thrown Into Fire
Breakstone, White & Gluck, PC
Plaintiff, a 19-year old nursing student from Boston, was a guest at a friend’s parent’s house on Cape Cod on November 27, 2008, the night before Thanksgiving. She and a group of friends were sitting on the deck around a portable fire pit which was burning haltingly. One guest told the host that he would “get something to get the fire going.” The host, knowing that the guest intended to get gasoline or some other accelerant, said, “OK.” A minute or so later the guest returned with a can of gasoline which he then poured directly onto the fire without warning. Plaintiff was completely unaware of his plan to dump the fuel on the fire.
Plaintiff was instantly burned by the flash and her clothes caught fire. She suffered extensive second and third degree burns to the backs of both of her hands, her neck, face and scalp. She was taken by MedFlight to Massachusetts General Hospital where she was in-patient for eighteen days. She underwent split-thickness skin grafting on the burns on her hands. She was discharged to allow her facial and neck burns to begin to heal. She then underwent a series of laser treatments of her facial burns at the Shriners Hospital, but with little effect.
Plaintiff then sought alternative treatment which eventually led her to Dr. Robert Spence, a renowned plastic surgeon in Baltimore. Dr. Spence performed a series of treatments over the course of a year, including the implantation of tissue expanders, scar excisions, skin flap advancements, debriding, and laser treatments. Plaintiff underwent numerous other treatments for scar excisions and revisions in the Boston area as well. She remains with diminished but still significant scarring on her face, shoulder, neck, hands and scalp, and also on the graft donor sites on her thighs.
Plaintiff had settled the claim against the guest who threw the gasoline without counsel for $500,000, the extent of his policy limits. Claims were then brought against the host of the party, who was covered by multiple insurance policies, including the primary policy on the premises where the injuries occurred, three household policies on his parents’ home and two rental units which they owned, and an umbrella policy. The total coverage was $3.2 million.
Shortly after suit was filed, Vermont Mutual Insurance Company filed a declaratory judgment action in Federal court. Vermont Mutual sought a declaration that the three policies they issued on the parents’ properties (i.e., the non-Cape Cod properties) did not afford coverage for the claims. The District Court ruled against Vermont Mutual, which then appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The District Court ruling was affirmed. Vermont Mutual Ins. Co. v. Zamsky, No. 13-1172 (1ST Cir. October 9, 2013).
The matter was scheduled for trial in February 2014. The video deposition of Dr. Spence was taken in Baltimore. The deposition was notable for the fact that Dr. Spence demonstrated a great respect and fondness for his patient, particularly with her remarkable motivation to get treatment and to move on with her life. Plaintiff was also prepared to call a psychiatrist to testify about post-traumatic stress disorder, and a local plastic surgeon to talk about future treatment options and their costs.
Special damages included approximately $450,000 in past medical bills, $150,000 in lost earning capacity due to the two year delay in her education, and $50,000 in future medical bills. The case was mediated in January 2014, three weeks prior to trial. All of the primary insurance policies were tendered at the outset of the mediation. The matter settled after the excess carrier made a substantial contribution to the settlement.
Plaintiff has, in fact, moved on with her life. She has completed her education as a Registered Nurse and is gainfully employed. She married in July 2014.