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.
If you or one of your loved ones has been burned in the shower, you may be entitled to compensation. Get in touch with The Stoddard Firm for a free consultation today. We’ll let you know if you have a case.
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.
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