The Court of Appeal has ruled that the manufacturer of a device used to avert the risk of fire was not obliged to compensate the owners of a factory that was burnt to the ground.
The court heard that the factory made precision components for the aerospace industry. Specifically, it installed thermo-level devices to act as fire alarms during a process that involved dipping castings into heated tanks of liquid.
The device failed only six weeks after installation and caused a fire that was quickly dealt with by staff without any harm caused. It also failed a month later but again staff extinguished the fire and there was no significant damage.
Senior staff realised the sensors were not functioning properly and stopped relying on them, so they set up a new system based on operator vigilance.
However, a month later, another fire broke out that wasn’t detected and the factory burnt down, leaving the factory owner to claim damages from the manufacturer of the device.
The judge found that although the devices were flawed and unsafe, the factory was aware of the malfunction and had not been relying on them.
The Court of Appeal has upheld the decision. It held that if an end user voluntarily continued to use a product after being alerted to its dangerous condition, he normally did so at his own risk. The effective cause of the fire was not that malfunction, but the failure of the system which the factory owner put in place to protect the factory once it knew of the malfunction.
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Manufacturer of faulty safety device not liable for fire EWCA Civ 847
HOWMET LTD v ECONOMY DEVICES LTD & ORS (2016)
CA (Civ Div) (Arden LJ, Jackson LJ, Sir Robert Akenhead) 31/08/2016