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Jeff Rasansky
Jeff Rasansky
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Coleman Camping Heater at Center of Potential Fraud & Dangerous Product Case in California

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From time to time, we receive reports from not only our clients about current personal injury news, but from friends of the law firm as well. John Bisnar and Brian Chase, of the Orange County, California law firm Bisnar | Chase sent out a press release yesterday, looking to shine a little bit of attention on a personal injury case they’re working on, this one involving a popular camping equipment manufacturer, Coleman.

The basic facts of the case: on December 30, 2005, Trevor Dennis and his parents were camping at the Octillo Wells Desert Recreation area in California. Trevor, then nine years old, went to bed in the camping trailer, which was heated by a Model 5053 ProCat PerfecTemp Coleman propane heater. Later in the evening, the heater malfunctioned, causing the trailer to burst into flames – while Trevor was inside. Most of the trailer was destroyed, and Trevor sustained severe burns over much of his body. Trevor’s injuries will require extensive ongoing medical care.

Yet here’s where the case turns: Coleman had been violating California law prohibiting non-vented portable heaters from being sold for use indoors. This statute was designed to prevent propane heaters – which use natural gas to warm the air – from non-ventilated areas, potentially causing significant harm. The packaging and labeling of the heater clearly indicated that the heater could be used indoors. The Sacramento District Attorney’s office received reports of these illegal sales – along with complaints about the faulty product itself – and sent a letter to both Coleman and Home Depot, where the heater was sold. Home Depot complied with the request to remove the heater from its shelves; Coleman, however, took a different route.

Coleman instead hired outside lawyers to assist their in-house lawyers with this issue. This isn’t surprising. What is astounding, however, is the possible evidence that these outside lawyers were brought in to circumvent California law. Our friends John Bisnar and Brian Chase requested all documentation regarding the work of these outside lawyers – if Coleman knew of a problem with the heaters, both from selling them in violation of California law (and committing a crime in the process) AND from the faulty product itself (resulting in Trevor’s extensive burn injuries), these documents could potentially prove a case, either for or against Coleman.

Coleman refused to hand over the documents, creating a presumption that maybe these documents aren’t so helpful to their defense – and maybe much more helpful in aiding Trevor’s claims and medical bills following this unfortunate event.

Bisnar | Chase filed a motion with the court to compel Coleman to release these documents – and the trial court agreed that these documents, though ordinarily privileged as attorney-client communications, should be available to the court due to the possibility of evidence of Coleman deliberately committing a crime and knowingly circumventing California health and safety laws. Coleman, of course, appealed the decision.

Today we’ll learn more about what the appeals court thinks of these so-called privileged documents, though in our mind, there’s no defense to knowingly manufacturing and selling faulty products, especially in violation of state or federal law, no matter who created or used these materials. Good luck to our friends out in California and may the appeals court do the right thing and compel Coleman to release these documents to the court.

Questions about this post or any other personal injury news? Have you been injured by Coleman camping products? Contact the Rasansky Law Firm online or at 1-800-Attorney to discuss your situation free of charge with our staff, attorneys, and lawyers.