Many of us have stepped into baths or showers that were a little hotter than expected. The result is usually no more than minor irritation. You turn the water on, step into the shower, scream in surprise, and then turn the heat down. The event may cause a small sting and raise your heart rate, but once you have turned that water temperature down, there is no lasting harm.
Sadly, these events sometimes cause much more serious injuries. Poor design and sub-par property management practices can turn that moment of surprise into a serious incident. In fact, there are more than 500,000 scald burns in the United States each year. Many of these scald / burn injuries could be avoided if apartment complexes, hotels, other property managers, and hot water heater manufacturers merely followed the law.
Safe Water Temperatures
The maximum safe bath / shower water temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This fact is usually reflected on your hot water heater. In fact, if you check any water heater you should see both a water temperature toggle switch and a safety warning label indicating a maximum safe temperature of 125 degrees (the five-degree difference accounts for the temperature drop as water exits the hot water heater and flows to the shower head).
Why is 120-degrees the maximum safe water temperature? Well, because at 133-degrees Fahrenheit, hot water can cause third-degree burns in fifteen seconds, and if the water temperature gets up to 156-degrees Fahrenheit, then third-degree burns can occur in one second. Despite these simple facts about safe hot water temperatures, many apartment complexes, property managers, and some hot water heater manufacturers are not following the law.
The main reason tenants get scalded by hot water is that simply setting your water heater to 120 or 125 degrees doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the water in the heater actually is 120 or 125 degrees. Extremely hot water temperatures still occur because the water in the heater isn’t uniform and the temperature gauge is not exact. Water heaters typically heat the water from the bottom of the heater, and so water temperature is not always 125 degrees throughout. Further, changes in pressure inside the hot water heater can affect the resulting water temperature.
Since relying on the water heater controls is an imperfect means to regulate temperature, the State of Georgia and many municipalities (including Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Marietta, Decatur, etc.) have enacted laws and ordinances requiring apartment complexes, hotels, and other property managers to install additional safety equipment to keep customers from getting badly burned.
Georgia Bath & Shower Regulations
The State of Georgia requires property owners to comply with the International Plumbing Code and the Pressure Vessel Safety Act. Many municipalities have additional regulation such as compliance with the American Society of Mechanical Engineering Standards (ASME) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Certification Standards. Many of these laws were made during the 1980s, when regulations restricting the rate of water usage to a shower head led to a spike in shower scald injuries.
Under these laws and standards, baths and showers must contain stop valves / regulator switches that lower the temperature of the water reaching the faucet, and the hot water shower knob must contain a position stop blocking water hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit from reaching the faucet. These rules do NOT allow the temperature toggle switch on the hot water heater to be counted as the stop valve, regulator switch, or position stop. Instead, other equipment must be added. If these rules are not followed, then the apartment complex, hotel, or other property manager can be found negligent and responsible for failing to prevent burn injuries.
Obviously, these regulations were put in place so people don’t get hurt. If the shower that scalded you is not up to code, you may have a case for negligence.
Hot Water Heater Defect Cases
Most bath and shower water burn injuries cases are brought against apartment complexes, hotels, or other property managers for failing to follow the above regulations. But, in rarer circumstances, there is an additional proper defendant – the manufacturer of the hot water heater.
Hot water heaters are designed with a “dip tube” that pushes cold water to the bottom of the tank where it contacts the heating element before rising back to the top. If the dip tube is defective and not doing its job, then the heating element will instead heat water that is already hot, and this can lead to burn injuries.
Hot water heaters are also designed with a pressure valve which releases pressure to the system. Keeping a properly pressured system inside the tank is important because pressure and temperature are directly related (i.e., pressure x volume = moles x constant x temperature). Thus, an increase in pressure means an increase in water temperature. A defective pressure valve can, therefore, cause the water inside a hot water heater to get very hot and burn someone. This increase in pressure can also cause the hot water heater to explode.
Most bath and shower burn cases are due to property owner / property management negligence and have nothing to do with a malfunctioning hot water heater. That said, it is important to preserve the hot water heater after a bath or shower burn injury so that a qualified attorney can investigate and make sure the hot water heater was not the culprit.
What to Do If You’ve Been Injured
If you or a loved one is injured by hot water while in the bath or shower, you should first seek medical attention. If your injuries were the result of neglect by another party, such as an apartment landlord, hotel management company, or hot water heater manufacturer, you should seek legal assistance immediately so that the relevant evidence can be quickly preserved. The Stoddard Firm has years of experience handling bath and shower scald injuries, and we offer a free initial consultation to discuss your case. Call us or contact us online today.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do I have a case?
If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s negligence, you could have a personal injury case. Every situation is different, so there’s no way to know if you have a case without consulting with a qualified personal injury attorney. If you are badly injured or a loved one has died, we are happy to speak with you and investigate the matter at no charge.
How do I pick the right attorney?
You’ll want to look for several qualities when choosing who will represent you. Your attorney should meet with you instead of sending an investigator, and he/she should be available throughout the process instead of having you consistently talk to a legal assistant. Your attorney should have a low number of cases so he/she can devote significant time to you and your case. Your attorney should have experience handling cases with facts similar to yours, and your attorney should have a proven track record with similar claims. Your attorney should also be able to devote significant money to your case so that he/she can hire experts, travel the country finding witnesses, and depose whomever is necessary to achieve justice. It’s also important to make sure your attorney is the right fit on a personal level, which is why you should take advantage of a free consultation.
What do I need to bring with me to the consultation?
For your free consultation, bring all relevant documents that you’ve collected regarding your case. If there are police reports, bills or correspondence from insurance companies, you’ll want to bring those items to the consultation so an attorney can learn as much about your case as possible.
How much time do I have to file a lawsuit?
There is a time limit on how long a person has after an injury to begin a lawsuit. This window is called a statute of limitations. For most personal injury cases in Georgia, the statute of limitations is two years from the time the injury was suffered. However, there are exceptions and subtleties that might change the amount of time you are afforded. Sometimes the period can be as short as 6 months, and other times it can be much longer than two years. Determining the statute of limitations requires a detailed analysis of the facts of your case.
What do your services cost?
A consultation with the Stoddard Law Firm is free. In most circumstances, we earn no fee unless we win your case. If your claim is successful, we take a percentage of the recovered amount.
What has to be proven in a premises liability case?
A successful premises liability claim must show that a hazardous condition exposed you to an unreasonable risk of harm and that the property owner failed to exercise reasonable care to maintain a safe premises. Common examples include slippery floors, unstable structures, broken handrails, stairs not built to code, scalding apartment shower water, natural gas explosions, electrical shocks, and improperly fenced swimming pools. There are several factors that can make or break a case, which is why it’s important to work with an experienced lawyer who can thoroughly investigate the situation.
How is negligent security different from premises liability?
Negligent security is a type of premises liability. These claims arise when a person is assaulted on someone else’s property by a third-party. Owners of apartment complexes, hotels, gas stations, and other retail establishments can sometimes be held liable if their inadequate security practices contributed to the attack. Such practices include failure to warn of prior crimes, inadequate lighting, broken access gates, broken locks, and failure to provide security guards.
How can an attorney help me?
Whether your injury was mild or severe, proving fault for premises liability can be a complex process. The standard of care owed by the property owner is made up of many factors and, in some cases, the hazardous conditions may no longer exist. A skilled premises liability attorney knows how to gather and preserve the necessary evidence – and how to defend you against accusations that you should have known about the dangerous condition.
How do I choose an attorney?
There are a lot of lawyers out there, so it’s important to select one that you feel comfortable with and who inspires confidence. Choose one who has experience with the type of claim you have, is qualified, has a good reputation in the legal community, and seems dedicated to helping you win your case.
How do I pay an attorney?
The Stoddard Firm handles litigation on a contingency basis. This means we accept a percentage of the amount we recover for you. If your claim does not have a successful resolution, we do not collect any fee. We are also pleased to offer free consultations.