BIC lighters loses lawsuit in Texas case

BIC lighters loses lawsuit in Texas case

Unsupervised child fire play resulted in severe burns to a six-year-old girl in 1998. A jury recently awarded the child $5 million in damages in a lawsuit against BIC, the alleged maker of the lighter involved. (18)

In the incident, Brittany Carter, then six, was playing with her brother Jonas, who was then five. They were alone in a bedroom melting crayons with a lighter when Jonas dropped the lighter on his sister’s dress. She suffered third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body. BIC contends that there was doubt that the lighter used was made by BIC, and that BIC presented evidence during the trial that all its lighters meet the CPSC child-resistant standard.

Plaintiffs attorneys argued that the lighter had inadequate child-resistant mechanisms. Expert witnesses for the plaintiff testified that BIC lighters did not meet the specifications of the CPSC standard for child resistance. The child’s attorneys claimed that “BIC tests every lighter it manufactures for flame height and flame color but only tests 50 out of every 4.5 million lighters made to see if they are child-proof.” (19)

It is interesting to note how easily these attorneys can slide from the term “child-resistant” to “child-proof.”

It is questionable whether cigarette lighters could be made “child-proof.” CPSC uses the term “child resistant” for its regulations on lighters, as well as for closures on prescription drugs and some toxic household products. The purpose of the child-resistant design is to make it more difficult for children to operate the lighter. In theory, if it takes a child a longer time to learn to operate a lighter, there is a greater chance an adult will intervene and prevent a tragedy. In the Carter case, this did not happen. Child-proofing a product is a much higher, probably impossible, standard to meet.

In this case, the existence of a federal standard for cigarette lighters was no protection for the manufacturer, who had participated actively in the drafting of the lighter regulation.

BIC has said it will appeal the jury decision.

(18) Fisk, Alan, “BIC Loses $5 M Verdict Over Burning,” The National Law Journal, March 19, 2003.

(19) Ibid.

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