An interesting case involving disclosures required by a manufacturer was recently decided in the State of California. The plaintiff in the action against the defendant, a manufacturer and seller of fire safety products, claimed that the defendant failed to disclose the hazards of ionized and photoelectric smoke alarms (smoke detectors) that they manufactured and sold. The plaintiff’s claim was directed at an ionization smoke alarm. The packaging on the defendant’s ionization smoke alarm stated that ionization smoke alarms are more sensitive at detecting fast-flaming fires, while photoelectric smoke alarms are generally more sensitive at detecting smoldering-type fires. The packaging stated: “For maximum protection, use both types of smoke alarms on each level and in every bedroom of your home.” The plaintiff purchased an ionization-only smoke alarm from a hardware store for her home. Notwithstanding the statements that appeared on the packaging, the plaintiff alleged that, “the smoke detector packaging and labeling did not contain any warnings, instructions, or other information disclosing, describing, or warning about the smoke detector’s inability to adequately, effectively, and safely detect, warn, alert and protect occupants from smoldering-type fires.”

The defendant manufacturer responded by requesting that the court dismiss the complaints. The defendant argued that all causes of action on behalf of the plaintiff must be dismissed because the packaging on the ionization smoke alarm disclosed the information that plaintiff claimed was not disclosed.

In opposition, the plaintiff contended, among other issues, that the disclosures on the packaging did not constitute a “warning” and did not amount to a “sufficient disclosure” of the extent of the “safety defect” inherent in the ionization smoke detectors, because they failed to state that the ionization smoke detectors might not safely alert customers in time to escape the deadly effects of smoldering fires. The plaintiff alleged that she would not have purchased the ionization-only smoke alarm if the defendant had disclosed the “material safety information” to her before her purchase, and alleged that she was forced to pay to replace her ionization-only smoke detector after she learned of the “omitted safety information.”

The court granted the defendant’s motion finding that the plaintiff lacked standing to seek prospective injunction relief, indicating that to establish its threat of imminent injury, which is required to obtain prospective injunction relief, a plaintiff must allege facts showing that he/she is “realistically threatened by a repetition of the violation.” The court agreed that the plaintiff did not.

The court pointed out that the plaintiff had not stated sufficient facts to support a claim under the California Legal Remedies Act also called CLRA. The CLRA makes illegal various “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices undertaken by any person in a transaction intended to result or which results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer.”

The court indicated that the plaintiff’s claim, “sounds in fraud” because it is based on the allegedly fraudulent omission of material disclosure of statements. While the complaint alleges that the “packaging” on plaintiff’s ionization smoke detector, “did not contain any warnings, instructions or other information disclosing, describing or warning about smoke detector’s inability to adequately, effectively and safely detect, warn, alert, and protect occupants from smoldering-type fires,” and that “no information provided by defendant discloses the safety defect,” the plaintiff’s opposition to the present motion confirmed that defendant’s packaging did disclose information regarding the performance of ionization alarms in smoldering fires.

 The court granted the plaintiff leave to amend as to the CLRA damages claimed, but pointed out that plaintiff would have a high hurdle to overcome the stated claim here, given that the defendant’s packaging explained that the two types of smoke alarms respond differently to different types of fires, and recommended that consumers utilize both types. 

Readers Ask

Q:  A subscriber of mine recently suffered a loss from fire when the smoke detector apparently failed to operate. An action has been threatened against the manufacturer and me, the operating alarm company who installed the system. My techs installed the system in accordance with the instructions contained in the packaging. Do we have any exposure?

A: If the system was in fact defective, then the manufacturer can probably be held responsible under the theory of products liability. If you as the installing company installed the system in accordance with the instructions and specifications contained in the packaging and you can prove this to be the case, there should be no exposure on your part. If an action is filed against you, you should file a cross complaint against the manufacturer. Notwithstanding, the matter should be turned over to your insurance carrier for handling.