Family of Burn Victim Calls on CPSC to Seek Recall of Deadly Lighter; Establish National Standards

Nov 22, 2011, 14:10 ET from Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh, L.L.P.

STEPHENVILLE, Texas, Nov. 22, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The family of a man who died of third-degree burns when his cigarette lighter exploded in his pocket asked the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission today to seek a recall of MK lighters, manufactured by the Chinese firm Zhuoye Lighter Company Ltd., and sold by the millions in the U.S.

William B. Clemmer, a machinist from Stephenville, Texas, died on May 6, 2008 of severe burns over more than half of his body, after his MK lighter failed to extinguish. Mr. Clemmer was at work on April 10, 2008, when he lit a cigarette, then placed the MK lighter in his pocket. Seconds later, the MK lighter exploded, engulfing Mr. Clemmer's torso in flames. He was promptly transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas. His last spoken words were, "My lighter exploded." Mr. Clemmer never regained consciousness and died 26 days later. He was 56 years old.

Testing conducted by lighter expert Dr. John Geremia in the Clemmer case shows that MK lighters suffer defects that result in unextinguished flames and explosions from the escaping butane.

"The testing Dr. Geremia performed showed very clearly how bad design and bad manufacturing turn a disposable lighter into a fire bomb," says attorney Craig Sico of Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh, the Corpus Christi, Texas law firm who represented the Clemmer family. "Mr. Clemmer used his lighter as intended – but the MK lighter didn't perform that way, and the result was horrible burn injuries that led to his death." 

An examination of Mr. Clemmer's MK lighter revealed debris on the globe seal, which can prevent the lighter from completely sealing its orifice. This allows gas to continue flowing -- just enough to keep a flame burning that is too small to be seen behind the wind screen. In addition, a poorly manufactured metering pad can allow liquid butane to flow unevenly through the orifice. Over time, butane can pass through the orifice in liquid form instead of evaporating into ignitable gas. In Mr. Clemmer's incident, the MK lighter's poorly manufactured globe seal and metering pad allowed the liquid to escape and seep into his clothing. The heat of his body caused the liquid butane to evaporate, which expanded its volume by about 60 times. Once the gas reached its flammable limits, it was ignited by the lighter's small unextinguished flame.

While Canada and Europe have lighter safety standards, the U.S. has rejected establishing such a regulation. Currently, there is only one mandatory lighter standard, which addresses a lighter's child-resistance. In 2001, when a flood of cheaply made lighters began to be exported from Asia, the Lighter Association petitioned the CPSC to adopt ASTM F400, the industry's voluntary safety, as mandatory. The agency's market analysis found that the American market consumes about 1 billion disposable lighters annually. Each year, disposable lighters cause approximately 917 injuries requiring medical attention and result in $31 million in injuries and property damage each year. The agency also found that the cost of compliance for the manufacturer would be nominal, amounting to only pennies per lighter.

Instead, the CPSC has settled for recalling malfunctioning lighters. Since 1988, the CPSC has announced at least five recalls involving a cigarette lighter for failing to self-extinguish.

The Clemmer family filed a civil action against the Zhuoye Lighter Company and settled its claims against the American subsidiary. The family's case against the Chinese company is pending. 

The Clemmer family maintains that if the MK lighter had met the industry standard, it would not have ignited in William Clemmer's pocket. In 2006, when the Commission last considered adopting the ASTM standard as a mandatory regulation, the CPSC staff reported that testing showed that 75 to 77 percent of all lighters tested from China failed the ASTM F400 performance requirements.

For this reason, the Clemmers also called on the CPSC to establish a rule requiring lighters sold in the US to conform to ASTM F400 as required in other countries.

"A cheap disposable lighter killed my brother," said Ricky Clemmer. "The CPSC had a chance as far back as 2001 to make sure that these imports were safe, and they didn't take action. Now is the time to fix it. Recall these dangerous lighters and set minimum safety standards so that others don't have to suffer from these preventable tragedies."


SOURCE Sico, White, Hoelscher & Braugh, L.L.P.