In 2007 the Claimant purchased a Samsung fridge freezer (the “Appliance”). On 1 January 2010 the Claimant arrived back to his house and discovered that there had been a fire.
The central issue in this case was whether or not the Appliance was defective within the meaning of section 3 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 which states that “there is a defect in a product for the purposes of this Act if the safety of the product is not such as persons generally are entitled to expect; and for those purposes “safety”, in relation to a product, shall include safety with respect to products comprised in that product and safety in the context of risks of damage to property, as well as in the context of risks of death or personal injury.”
The Claimant’s case was that because the Appliance caught fire in the course of its normal use, its safety was not such as persons were entitled to expect.
The Defendant’s case was that the fire originated outside the Appliance – from a cigarette that the Claimant had discarded.
In a claim brought under the 1987 Act, the Claimant simply needs to prove the existence of a defect in broad or general terms – he does not need specify or identify with accuracy or precision the defect in the product.
However, the burden of proof remains on the Claimant throughout the case – he needs to prove the existence of a defect, albeit unspecified, in the product, and that that defect caused the peril or accident which occurred, on the balance of probabilities.
The experts in this case:
- Did not agree where the fire originated; the Claimant’s expert stated that it started inside the Appliance, in the machinery compartment at the rear, whilst the Defendant’s expert considered that the fire originated outside the Appliance, at its front.
- Agreed that if the fire originated inside the machinery compartment, the most likely cause was an unidentified electrical fault with the Appliance, whilst if the fire originated in front of the Appliance, then the most likely cause of the fire was carelessly discarded smokers’ materials.
- Confirmed that they could find no residual evidence of any causal defect within the components in the machinery compartment or elsewhere on the Appliance.
The Judge found that:
- He accepted the joint opinion of the experts that there was a quantity of combustible material immediately outside the Appliance (a bag of rubbish), to the front of the Appliance.
- He accepted the Defendant’s expert’s opinion that it was this material which ignited first.
- He accepted that the location of the most severe damage was to the front of the Appliance, and thus not in the machinery compartment to the rear.
- The Claimant was not an impressive witness – his recollection of the facts was at odds with the conclusions of the experts, in particular with regards to the conclusion of both experts that there was nothing in front of the freezer when he left the property.
- The Claimant’s mother was also not an impressive witness – she was asked whether she recalled seeing an ashtray in front of the fridge freezer to which she replied no, but the photos of the accident clearly showed that there was an ashtray left on top of the work surface which was close to the front of the Appliance.
- There was nothing wrong with the Appliance before the incident in question.
- The experts’ finding that there was no evidence of a defect on the Appliance was also accepted.
Taking into account the above, and predominantly the fact that there was no direct witness evidence from anyone who saw the fire at any point, the Judge found that the Claimant had not proved that the cause of the fire was from the Appliance (despite the fire report from the Fire Service being that the cause was the Appliance. The Fire Service report was not deemed to be an opinion derived from any forensic investigation into the cause).
The Claimant had therefore not discharged the burden of proof which rested upon him to prove that there was a defect in the Appliance and that the origin of the fire was from the rear of the Appliance as he alleged.
The claim failed.