Horrific Accident Prompts Warning Of Bio-Ethanol Burners

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The Law Of... bio-ethanol burns

After taking on a tragic case that saw a client suffer severe burns to 28% of her body, Claire Roantree – Head of Serious Personal Injury at Simpson Millar – has issued a stark warning on the dangers of using popular bio-ethanol burners.

Bio-Ethanol Burner Accident Prompts Safety Warning

Dangers Of Popular Burners

Suzanne Hughes, from Hertfordshire, was relaxing at a friend's house when a bio-ethanol burner exploded, causing in a flammable gel to land in her lap and run down her leg, resulting in catastrophic injuries.

Despite the incident happening over 2 years ago, Suzanne is still recovering and is continuing to attend appointments to help her with her rehabilitation.

After 7 extensive skin graft operations, 3 operations to revise the scarring, and over 100 appointments and meetings to help her physical and emotional recovery, Suzanne now wants to use her experience to highlight the dangers of bio-ethanol burners.

Operating at temperatures of 900°F, these gel burners have the potential to cause serious injury and the consequences of accidents involving bio-ethanol fuel can be fatal.

Unclear Instructions

These garden ornaments are relatively cheap and can add a relaxed ambience to a summer evening, however ambiguous instructions can easily turn these popular decorative devices into a dispenser of highly flammable liquid gel.

The issue in the case of our client was a lack of clarification on when the burner could be relit. After having the burner off for a period of time, Suzanne's friend assumed that it would be safe to relight the ornament – as the instructions stated that the burner had to be cool before relighting – however as the device was not completely cold the burner exploded.

This ambiguity between 'cool' and 'cold' caused a completely avoidable accident and has caused Suzanne 2 years of untold physical and emotional torment.

As a result of this, Claire at Simpson Millar is campaigning for manufacturers to increase their safety warnings on products that use highly flammable bio-ethanol fuel:

"We're calling on manufacturers to make the instructions clear, so that people really know how to use these products."

"An average cool down period or a clarification on what is meant by vague terms such as 'cool' could have stopped this horrific accident, which continues to affect Suzanne's quality of life."

"Even if we do classify this incident as resulting from 'user error', the consequences of this simple oversight were so severe that there should have been more details about the dangers of using the product, especially in regards to the dangers of not refuelling the burner until completely cold."

National Concern

With these burners readily available at low prices, it is vital that members of the public understand the hazardous nature of these products and really appreciate that they are dealing with highly flammable fuel.

Worryingly, many bio-ethanol burners are marketed for indoor or outdoor use, so this is not a seasonal concern that will disappear alongside any sunny spells.

Speaking on BBC Three Counties Radio, Suzanne explained the emotional trauma caused by the incident and described how it is only now, 2 years after the accident that she feels comfortable to talk about her terrible ordeal.

The burners themselves are available for under £40 and many do not feature any protective casing, meaning that any users could suffer the same catastrophic injuries as Suzanne, who herself advised anyone who already owns one of these burners to get rid of the dangerous ornament.

Due to the product's popularity – an indoor and outdoor bio-ethanol burner currently holds top spot on an Amazon best seller list – it is likely that many family homes will feature the decorative piece, only compounding the need for awareness on the need for caution when dealing with the item.

Specialist Treatment

The distressing nature of Suzanne's injuries meant that early treatment and care was crucial to her rehabilitation. After establishing liability with the homeowner, Claire secured early interim payments that allowed Suzanne to receive the very best care.

In the aftermath of the incident, these early payments allowed Suzanne to receive treatment from a leading plastic surgeon and psychologist, both of whom specialised in burns trauma.

Describing the work she completed for Suzanne, Claire said:

"Arranging the interim payments was crucial for Suzanne, as it allowed us to secure funds for the best treatment possible."

"In cases of horrific burns, early initial treatment is crucial and while my client is still on the long road to recovery, her rehabilitation has undoubtedly been aided by early consultations."

"Of course it wasn't just Suzanne's terrible physical injuries that needed to be treated as soon as possible and it was crucial that psychological support was provided to deal with the deep emotional trauma caused by this horrific incident."

"In any incidents involving life changing injuries early action is so important and we always look at how we can secure the best possible treatment for our clients."

Devastating Consequences

Beyond the extensive physical damage done by the accident, Suzanne has suffered other devastating consequences, including significant emotional trauma, meaning she has undergone counselling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Changing the way she looks and feels, the severe nature of her injuries has caused Suzanne to completely change the way she dresses and she has since spoken out about how she doesn't feel like herself anymore.

Speaking of the devastating nature of her client's injuries, Claire says:

"This has been a terrible 2 years for Suzanne, whose self-confidence has been affected by the severe nature of her scarring."

"Any injuries involving flammable material can be deeply shocking and we really have to question how many other tragic cases like Suzanne's have to happen before some sort of action is taken?"

"I dread to think what the result would be if a child was involved in an accident with a bio-ethanol burner. This devastating case has made me push for awareness on the dangers of using flammable materials around the home."

Speaking after Claire on Three Counties Radio, Steve Halton, a community Fire and Safety officer claimed that these appliances were safe, if the instructions were followed. Claire insists that the instructions were followed by Suzanne's friend, but were not clear, nor did they carry sufficient warnings of the dangers in refuelling too soon.

It is the responsibility of manufacturers to make sure their products are safe, and instructions for their use are clear and precise. In this instance we don’t think that has happened. Claire stresses:

"We hope that making people aware of the dire consequences of mishandling flammable material will reduce the likelihood of these sorts of distressing injuries happening again in the future."


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