Georgia Multimeter Injury
Electrical power is the lifeblood of so many of the devices we enjoy and rely on every day, from computers to cooking appliances to medical equipment, that it’s easy to forget how hazardous it can sometimes be. Electricity is also what powers our nervous systems, through a delicate balance of interwoven pulses and signals, which is why exposure to electric current can have such devastating and sometimes unpredictable effects on the human body.
Modifying and maintaining electrical systems is a dangerous task, even for qualified electricians, let alone for untrained workers, business owners, or homeowners attempting to troubleshoot vital equipment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2,210 American workers were injured on the job by electricity in 2017, severely enough to miss days of work. A further 136 were killed by these same kinds of injuries.
The risk of injury and death from electric shocks can be drastically reduced with proper training and precautions. However, it’s almost impossible to perform electrical work without depending, sooner or later, on someone else taking proper safety precautions as well. That includes the manufacturers of the basic tools and safety gear necessary to perform the work. A multimeter in particular qualifies as both tool and safety gear, with double the possibilities for injury if it fails or malfunctions.
Using a Multimeter Often Means Trusting Your Life to It
As the name suggests, multimeters are designed for multiple purposes, chiefly measuring voltage, current, and resistance. For people working with electrical systems, these few functions have countless indispensable applications, from testing batteries and fuses to diagnosing burnt out wiring. One of a multimeter’s most important uses, however, is to verify that a circuit about to be worked on has been properly de-energized. In this way, a multimeter is much like a helmet, a smoke detector, or a climbing carabiner, and its importance in preserving lives should be taken just as seriously. Unfortunately, commercially available multimeters often fail to live up to this responsibility.
In 2002, Fluke issued a recall for 40,000 of its multimeters due to delayed voltage readings. When testing high voltage circuits, these meters could take up to 18 seconds to respond, leading users to believe the voltage to be zero. Later, in 2010, Extech issued a similar recall of a batch of multimeters prone to giving inaccurate readings when their battery power ran low. Fluke and Extech are both highly respected electronics companies and were both honest enough to issue their recalls voluntarily — Fluke in particular holds the dubious distinction of having issued two voluntary multimeter recalls in as many years a decade later. However, given the dangerously flawed products that have slipped past the notice of such reputation-conscious companies for long enough to reach the hands of users, there’s no telling how many other companies have allowed flawed multimeters to remain on the market indefinitely.
Most multimeters are manufactured in China or India, sometimes by American companies abiding by American regulations, sometimes not. Prices range from $10 to upwards of $1,000, and quality varies just as much. Higher prices often mean higher voltage ratings and better failsafes, but not always. Many off-brand models make lofty promises about their voltage ratings but never undergo independent certification to validate these claims. To make matters more confusing, cheap imitations of trusted brands are common, and the purchaser of a multimeter will often not be the only person using it. It can be difficult enough to tell how trustworthy a unit is on the shelf, let alone separated from its box and price tag in a communal work environment.
The AIMOmeter MS8217, for example, is built to be nearly identical to a Fluke product on the outside, but a dissection of its insides by one electronics enthusiast reveals that its main fuse isn’t connected to anything. False or delayed readings, like those given by Fluke and Extech’s older recalled models, can lead to users unknowingly touching live wires, potentially leading to serious injury or death. The consequences of using a multimeter without properly installed fuses, on the other hand, can be disastrous on an even larger scale.
A Defective Multimeter Can Do Much Worse than Nothing
The purpose of a multimeter’s fuse is much the same as the purpose of any fuse: to break a circuit if the amperage rises too high, before serious damage can occur. Without an adequate fuse setup, a spike in current can cause arcing, explosion, electrocution, and fire, posing a severe hazard not only to the user but to everyone in the surrounding area.
These kinds of faulty designs are not limited to a few substandard knockoffs like the AIMOmeter. Amprobe, another well-respected brand, issued a recall in 2012 for two of its multimeter models, warning customers that the units might arc or explode at voltages significantly lower than they’d originally been rated for. Then, in 2016, Fluke popped back into the recall advisory stream with a similar issue. Two versions of their ironically named “Intrinsically Safe Multimeter” were prone to developing cracks in the casing near the rear screws, creating an arcing hazard and the possibility of particle explosions in dusty work environments.
Many of these voluntary recalls were issued before any serious injuries were recorded — though not before the public was put at serious risk of injury and death, it should be noted — but that’s not to say that multimeter accidents are limited to the realm of theory. Far from it. According to a survey by the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), more than one in ten electrical trades workers have had a multimeter fail violently during use. At least 18% of these failures were caused solely by equipment defects, and many more involved simple, predictable user errors, easy for even an experienced professional to make.
That’s a ridiculously high ratio of dangerous failures for any product. It’s even more ridiculous when you consider the safety features that do exist among higher-end models, which lower-end designers choose not to implement. Manufacturers who knowingly skimp on basic safety for the sake of cost-cutting are relying on the tendency of consumers to blame themselves for not spending more money if something goes wrong. While it’s not a bad idea to reach above the bottom-shelf version of a product when your life may depend on it, no company should be profiting off of selling dangerously substandard products in the first place.
The ESA’s survey only included living, practicing electrical workers, and therefore didn’t even include fatal incidents, like the one that claimed the lives of an electrician and a firefighter during an examination of a shopping mall’s malfunctioning electrical system.
Based on an examination by a forensic engineer, the electrician and firefighter had both arrived to check on systems that were producing smoke and experiencing outages. The electrician borrowed a multimeter from the mall’s maintenance department and began using it to try to diagnose a problem with the switchboard. A resulting fireball engulfed the electrician and firefighter, along with a maintenance worker who survived with severe injuries. The subsequent investigation revealed that the multimeter had no safety rating, packaging with the misleading label of “industrial multimeter,” and a fuse that was nowhere near adequate for safe use on industrial electrical systems.
Stay Safe While Using Your Multimeter
The best multimeters are designed to protect users from common errors as well as deliberate misuse, and ideally, they should all be made this way. That said, no number of safety features can completely eliminate the danger of working with electricity, so it’s important to take all possible precautions to minimize your risk.
Organizations ranging from the South Carolina Department of Administration, to the U.S Navy, to popular electronics hobbyist magazines have weighed in on the subject of multimeter injuries and how to avoid them. To protect yourself, adhere closely to the established rules and best practices, including:
- Wearing insulated gloves
- Completely disconnecting the power to a circuit before connecting or disconnecting a multimeter
- Triple-checking that the meter is on the correct setting before taking a reading, including checking voltage/amperage/resistance, ac/dc, polarity, and placement of leads
- Always starting from the highest voltage or amperage range and working your way down to more precise readings if necessary
- Inspecting the meter for damage before every use
- Never using leads with damaged or inadequate insulation, which can allow a fatal current to cross the heart
- Using the same hand to place each lead individually whenever possible, instead of two hands to place them simultaneously
- Never allowing the leads to touch each other while in contact with points on a circuit
- Always unplugging the red lead before the black lead
It’s also advisable to use your own equipment whenever possible and do thorough research before making a purchase. Look for an independent rating certification, not just manufacturer’s claims such as “designed for use on” or “built to withstand” a certain voltage or current.
What to Do After a Multimeter-Related Accident
Multimeter failures can cause injury and death in multiple ways. Arcing can start fires, explosions can cause blunt trauma and shrapnel damage, and other malfunctions can cause severe shocks and electrocution, so first aid may take different forms for different incidents. If a person is stuck in contact with an electrical current and is unable to let go, immediately shut down the power if possible, or pry the victim away from the source with a non-conductive object, such as a dry piece of wood.
Next, call for emergency medical assistance, regardless of the nature of the injury. Do not attempt to move the patient unless there is a fire, electrical arcing and sparking, or another ongoing dangerous condition. In these cases, evacuate the area quickly and carefully. Immediate symptoms to expect after an electrical injury include:
- Fractures (caused by seizing or being jolted backward)
- Heart attack
- Irregular heartbeat
- Problems with swallowing, breathing, hearing, or vision
- Muscle spasms and pain
- Numbness or tingling
- Skin burns
If the patient has lost consciousness, check his or her airway, breathing, and circulation, and perform CPR if necessary. If the patient is conscious but disoriented or pale, have him or her lie with legs elevated, covered by a warm blanket or coat. If there are visible burns, remove any clothing or jewelry that may stick to them. As long as the conditions are safe and there is no skin loss, cool water can be applied to draw heat from the burn. If there is profuse bleeding from explosion-related trauma, apply pressure around the area but do not attempt to remove any embedded shrapnel.
Unless the multimeter user was only startled by the failure and never actually came in contact with electrical current, do NOT forego medical treatment just because there are no visible injuries and he or she “seems fine.” Even a small amount of electrical current passing through the human body can be dangerous, and the effects are not always immediate. Debilitating, stroke-like symptoms can develop days or weeks after an untreated shock. A lack of visible burns can even indicate that the victim has above-average skin conductivity, allowing the current to do greater internal damage.
Once immediate medical needs are met, document the events that led to the accident. This may include preserving the remains of the multimeter, photographing the scene, and writing down details while they’re fresh in your mind. Finally, get in touch with qualified legal counsel, like the electrical injury lawyers at the Stoddard Firm. We’re always available at 678-RESULT and through our online chat function to provide a free consultation on your next steps. We have brought multiple successful cases against multimeter manufacturers in the past, so we have both the experience and expert witness relationships to put your case in the best possible light.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
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.
Do I have to go to court?
Not necessarily. Many wrongful death and personal injury cases are settled before they go to court. However, it is our experience that the most successful cases are built as if they are going to court. Our firm prepares every case to go all the way to trial, even if it is ultimately resolved before the trial starts.
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 is my case worth?
There’s no way for us to know how much your case is worth until we hear the details of your case. Be wary of any lawyer who gives you an amount without first evaluating your case. After evaluating the facts, an attorney should be able to determine how much to seek in damages, i.e., the amount of compensation you are owed for your injuries.
What is products liability?
Companies that make and sell products have a responsibility to make sure that those products perform as intended. If a defective product causes harm to consumers, any entity in the distribution chain can be held liable. Products liability is a type of personal injury caused by the negligence, recklessness, or inaction of the product manufacturer.
Why do I need a lawyer?
Cases involving dangerous or defective products are complex and expensive. Attorneys have the experience, resources, and network of experts and investigators to gather all the facts, analyze the law, and successfully pursue your claim. By consulting with a products liability lawyer, you can make decisions from a position of strength. This is especially critical where defective products are concerned, because manufacturers and sellers typically have teams of lawyers who begin immediately looking for ways to minimize liability once a problem arises.
If I no longer have the product that injured me, do I still have a case?
Potentially. Although it is important to preserve the product in the condition it was in when it caused the injury, not having it does not automatically prevent you from making a successful claim. Consult a qualified products liability attorney who can examine your circumstances and advise you how best to proceed.
If I think I have been injured by a defective product, what should I do next?
If the injury is serious, seek medical attention. Save all medical records related to the diagnosis and treatment as well as any purchase documents, receipts, and manuals for the product. Don’t throw the product away or alter it. Have the scene of the incident preserved. Consult an experienced products liability attorney immediately to find out your legal options.