Home water heaters are dangerous and can cause serious injury or even death. For example, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports about 30 deaths per year caused by exploding or leaking gas water heaters.
At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our personal injury attorneys are legal advocates for accident victims and surviving family members who lost a loved one in an explosion. Our law firm fights aggressively on behalf of our clients to ensure they receive the maximum compensation they deserve while seeking justice.
Call a Chicago burn injury attorney at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone number) or use the contact form today to schedule a free consultation. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team remains private through an attorney-client relationship.
Hot Water Heaters Can Be Dangerous
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports about 40 deaths and 300 injuries caused by home water heater explosions each year in the United States alone!
Statistics reveal that the natural gas valves on these units fail to work properly over time, leading to a build-up of deadly carbon monoxide inside the house or apartment building due to an improperly operating pilot light.
A hot water heater explosion could result from a manufacturer’s defect, improper installation, or lack of maintenance. Hot water tanks are designed to heat household or commercial water to a safe limit and avoid creating excess pressure that would need to be released through the unit’s safety valve.
For various reasons, a hot water heater can reach unacceptable pressure levels. The system’s failure produces an explosion of scalding water and metal that can cause burns and other injuries to people in the area.
Electrical water heaters require 220 volts of electricity or double the amount of a common 110-volt electrical outlet to work efficiently and properly. Additionally, the gas water heater requires a steady flow of natural or propane gas ignited by pilot light.
Any malfunction of either system can cause a hot water heater explosion or fire in the home or commercial building. Hot water tanks are usually located in an enclosed area and can quickly cause serious problems that often go unnoticed until the fire becomes overwhelming.
Improper Manufacture, Installation, and Maintenance of Hot Water Heaters
Water heater manufacturers must meet specific federal guidelines and standards during the design, manufacture, and assembly of water tanks. In addition, licensed plumbing installers must meet legal obligations to ensure that every installed unit meets strict manufacturing requirements.
When injuries or death occur due to an Illinois water heater fire or explosion, all responsible parties share legal liability for the physical injuries, wrongful death, and property damage. A water heater explosion results from excessive heat and pressure that builds up inside the hot water tank in most incidents.
Numerous factors could cause a water heater explosion. Some of these causes include:
- Manufacturing Defect: Design flaws or defects during manufacturing can cause a serious explosion or fire in the home or commercial property. These water heater explosions can lead to serious burn injuries or wrongful death. In addition, defects can often go unnoticed for years and instantly create unacceptable pressure levels and the potential for an explosion if the pressure cannot be relieved through the safety relief valve.
- Improper Installation: Severe injuries and wrongful deaths often occur during a hot water tank explosion or fire when the installing contractor places the heater close to a combustible heat source or flammable materials. In addition, installation contractors and maintenance technicians might be legally at fault if they alter the way the relief valve or safety valve operates.
- Improper Maintenance: As water heater tanks age, the units become susceptible to leaks and corrosion. When not properly maintained by a licensed technician, leaks, rust, and corrosion can quickly develop, flooding the home or allowing the tank to build up excessive amounts of pressure, leading to a catastrophic blast. Without safety devices and proper controls, the hot water heater is susceptible to catastrophic events causing substantial damage, severe injuries, or death.
- Corrosion and Leaks: Water heaters can last anywhere from 10 to 15 years, depending on various factors. The unit is made of metal that will corrode over time with the water flowing through it. Rust and leaks are common problems seen in older tanks where owners fail to pay attention to the tank’s needs. Over time, the gas burners or electrical heating elements fail, causing the water not to get hot enough. But owners usually don’t notice this until it is too late, and small leaks lead to water heater explosion accidents.
- Improper Water Hardness: Water hardness is when there is too much calcium and magnesium in the water. It affects heating appliances when the calcium and magnesium deposits clog the heater’s anode. The water will then flow through the anode, causing it to deteriorate and weaken. It can lead to leaks and hot water leakage. When owners see the problem starting to happen with their water heaters, they can prevent further damage by having a technician replace it before it reaches a critical stage.
- Electrical Failure: When an electrical failure occurs, the water heater’s heating element will burn out, causing it to no longer heat the water. But because the tank is still pressurized, this causes a build-up of pressure due to nowhere for the excess heat and steam to go. Anything can cause a spark that triggers a hot water explosion, leading to significant property damage and injury when pressured up like this.
- Gas Line Failure: Water tanks that heat by gas can create the same pressure build-up as those heated by electricity if there is a problem with the gas line. If an outside source of natural gas, such as a leaking line or another appliance, comes in contact with the water heater, it can cause a spark and trigger an explosion.
- Improper Use: Gas-fired water heaters require regular maintenance, including cleaning the burner compartment, which a licensed contractor should do. If owners neglect this simple task, gas can collect inside carbon monoxide, which is flammable and potentially explosive. It only takes a small spark from a water heater pilot light to create a huge explosion because of all the gas already in the air.
- Improper Ventilation: When an electrical or gas-fired water heater is installed in a confined space, the heat build-up can cause problems. If proper ventilation cannot be achieved, the surrounding areas will become too hot and possibly start a fire. If not corrected, this can lead to an explosion.
- Improper Drainage: The only way for a water heater to expel hot water is through the drain valve, which must be cleared of debris and operated frequently. If the drain line becomes clogged with debris or a contractor decides not to install a clean-out plug in case they need to access the line for repairs, it could cause an explosion if there is nowhere for the steam and gas to go.
- Wear and Tear: Water heaters will wear out over time, just like anything else. Some units, especially electric ones that are more than ten years old, should be replaced to avoid potential leaks or water heater explosions because of corrosion and build-up.
Codes and Regulations
Each municipality sets its own rules and regulations regarding installing water heaters and inspection and maintenance requirements.
However, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) recommends that a qualified plumber or contractor inspect all aspects of the water heater before purchasing a home to ensure that all codes and regulations are met for the area.
Home inspectors will typically note any problems with the water tank as part of their inspection report of the business or home’s water heater annually. However, the report often fails to include details about how those problems could cause an explosion.
As a result, many homebuyers never learn about these potentially deadly hazards unless they ask a home inspector directly.
Responsible homeowners should find out more about their water heaters and ensure that the heating appliances are safe and sanitary before moving into a new home and regular maintenance to prevent any problems from occurring. It will not only improve safety in the home but also prolong the life of the appliances.
Water Heater Safety Concerns
The UL standard for water heaters requires that all units manufactured after January 1, 1998, be equipped with two separate and redundant safety shut-off systems to assist homeowners during a catastrophe or emergency.
The first safety feature is an anti-combustion chamber at the top of the water heater tank that prevents the build-up of explosive, flammable fumes. The second feature is a pressure-release safety valve located at the top of the water heater that releases all excess internal pressure should any problem occur.
Deciding to replace an older model with one that meets current code requirements should be done only after consulting with a professional contractor or plumber to do the work safely.
Preventing a Hot Water Heater Explosion
Water heater explosions and fires are preventable through proper maintenance of the water heater tank. Landlords, property managers, commercial structure owners, and homeowners must maintain the safety of the hot water tank.
Annual inspections performed by licensed professionals can usually detect the early warning signs if the hot water tank is producing hotter than usual water or steam venting from the hot water faucet.
An inspector can also look for signs of corrosion, leaks, and further damage. In addition, setting the hot water tank at a lower temperature, usually, 125 degrees Fahrenheit, can minimize water heater damage and help the household avoid scalding burns.
It is essential to have the T&P (temperature and pressure) valve inspected annually. Inspections will minimize the potential of the hot water tank becoming an unexpected bomb when the excessive pressure builds to unacceptable levels.
Common Hot Water Heater Explosion Injuries
Should a water heater explode, the victim can experience severe injuries or catastrophic death. Moreover, the victim is also exposed to pieces of the water heater and fire propelled in the surrounding area.
If the water heater is located in the garage, the victim can also be struck by shrapnel from surrounding objects. The force of impact will cause deep lacerations, fractures, amputations, contusions, and concussions.
Consequently, victims are usually burned due to contact with the hot water or excessive steam produced after a water heater explosion. Burns can be mild to severe, depending on the victim’s distance from the location of the tank at the time of the water heater explosion.
Severity of Injuries
Most victims have burns or shrapnel injuries resulting in scarring or disfigurement. Others sustain broken bones and internal organ damage after being propelled by the force of the explosion.
The force of impact can also result in death, although this is rare. In addition, the blast can collapse structures or cause other explosions within the surrounding area. Consequently, victims are often at risk of dying from their injuries should they not seek assistance promptly.
Common injuries include:
- Severe burns
- Facial scarring and lacerations
- Head trauma and traumatic brain injuries
- Nerve damage
- Amputation, especially of fingers or toes
Catastrophic injuries will often result in permanent disability because of the extent and severity of the injury. Victims may be left with blindness, amputations, hearing loss, brain damage, respiratory issues, or other conditions that require extensive medical care or months to years of rehabilitation.
Explosion Location and Victim Expectations
The location of where the water heater exploded can determine the severity of injuries sustained by victims. Also, the age and type of water heater will often indicate how severe an explosion will be.
Water heaters installed on the upper levels are more likely to cause serious injuries. However, they can also result in property damage on lower levels depending on where debris falls.
Victims should prepare for property damage, injuries requiring medical attention, emotional trauma, and loss of income if they cannot work while recovering from an explosion.
Liability for a Water Heater Explosion Injury
Victims are often unaware of who is liable for causing the explosion. For example, the most common cause of a hot water heater explosion is improper installation, maintenance, or defective parts.
Depending on the circumstances, the manufacturer, installer, local contractor or building owner, or landlord can be liable for injuries caused by a hot water heater explosion. It may also depend on whether or not the victim can identify a specific party responsible for causing the explosion.
While some victims may settle without filing a personal injury claim, others will need to file suit against any potential defendant held liable for causing the explosion and resulting injuries.
Battle of Experts and Scopes of Liability
Potential defendants often use their expertise to their advantage when a water heater explodes. Consequently, they will produce expert reports to support their claims that factors outside their control caused the explosion.
In many personal injury cases, manufacturers will claim improper installation or old age as the cause for an explosion, so they are not held liable for injuries caused by a defective product. In other instances, local contractors or building owners may claim improper installation as the cause.
Some defendants will attempt to place all liability on the victim by claiming they carelessly caused an explosion by misusing the water heater, such as overloading circuits with other appliances. However, these explanations are often debunked by eyewitnesses and experts who conclude that the product was defective at the time of purchase.
Liability for Property Damage and Injuries
When a water heater explodes, it can result in extensive property damage to one’s home or apartment. Moreover, the costs associated with replacing belongings and repairing damages made by debris may be costly and paid for by the landlord if they are held liable for causing the explosion.
If the property owner caused the explosion, there is a chance that they may be held liable for injuries sustained by residents by either electric and gas-powered water heaters. However, if the victim was occupying their home illegally or engaged in an illegal activity when the water heater exploded, they are unlikely to recover damages from the landlord.
Chemical Burns and Other Injuries
Water heaters are not only capable of causing serious injuries, but they can also cause chemical burns.
The scolding water and steam from a water heater explosion can cause chemical and thermal burns and extensive property damage to one’s home or apartment. Moreover, the costs associated with replacing belongings and repairing damages made by debris may be expensive.
Consequently, victims must understand their legal rights and options after sustaining a hot water heater explosion injury.
Defense Strategies for Hot Water Heater Explosion Cases
When defendants are aware that their liability is apparent or they risk losing in court, they may attempt to settle out of court with the victim by offering an inadequate amount of compensation.
Defendants may also offer less than one’s medical bills total because they wish to settle and distribute the remaining balance of any potential award.
Although victims may be tempted to accept a settlement offer when they are in pain and suffering, it is often unwise because defendants may use evidence against them during the trial. Consequently, victims should wait until after their injuries have healed before making such decisions.
Possible Financial Recovery for a Water Heater Explosion Injury
Were you injured, or did you lose a loved one in a hot water heater explosion? You, any victim or surviving family member, can file a wrongful death claim or personal injury lawsuit against all parties involved in the accident.
Potential defendants could include the hot water tank manufacturer, installer, or other third parties involved in the negligence. Typically, victims will build their claim seeking compensatory damages as compensation for their losses.
The financial recoveries meant to make the victim “whole” again by paying for various monetary damages, including:
- Hospitalization costs
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Future lost earnings
- Temporary or permanent disabilities
- Mental anguish
- Funeral and burial expenses in wrongful death cases
- Loss of companionship, consortium, and enjoyment for life
- Pain & suffering
Additional damages generated from malfunctioning hot water heaters with a defective pressure relief valve might involve the medical bills generated before the decedent passed away. In addition, surviving family members might have lost financial contribution or support the family lost due to their loved one’s death.
Legal Remedies Available to Those Injured Due to an Exploding Hot Water Heater
Victims of a hot water heater explosion suffering property damage, severe injuries, or wrongful death should seek legal representation to obtain financial compensation. Rosenfeld personal injury lawyers specialize in explosion and fire cases and fight for the rights of their clients on a contingency fee basis.
Our Chicago product liability attorneys can file an insurance claim or lawsuit to obtain adequate compensation for injuries and property damage along with pain and suffering as a direct result of a water tank explosion or fire.
Call Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC at (888) 424-5757 to schedule a free consultation. Let’s discuss the merits of a legal claim against all responsible parties that manufactured, installed, or improperly maintained a hot water heater tank, which caused a fire or explosion.
- NIH – Incidence of hot tap water scalds
- NCBI – Role of Hot Water System Design on Factors Influential to Pathogen Regrowth