- February 9, 2024
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Defective Products
Medical treatment should always be harmless, or at least calculated to minimize risk while giving the patient the best possible chance at their desired outcome.
Doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel study this ideal and its nuances in school. However, there are some medical treatment risks that doctors and nurses don’t control — their equipment suppliers do.
Legally, product manufacturers of all kinds are bound by this same basic ethical principle. If a product has the potential to cause harm, the company has a duty to make it as safe possible, and to be honest with its customers about any lingering risks, so that they can make informed decisions about their own safety.
Sadly, good safety engineering is expensive, and warning labels don’t make for good marketing. Because manufacturers are motivated by profit, many don’t adhere to their legal and ethical safety obligations, even within the medical industry.
Neighbors Say the Victim of a Recent Atlanta House Fire Relied on Medical Oxygen
Just a couple days before Christmas last year, a home caught fire on Willis Mills Road SW, in Atlanta. One person was found dead in the wreckage, and another was pulled from the blaze alive but succumbed to fatal injuries under hospital care.
The fire department would later disclose that there was at least one additional fatality associated with the fire as well.
A neighbor told reporters that the victim found inside the wreckage of the home had been suffering from ongoing health problems and relied on medical oxygen, sometimes storing as many as 10-15 oxygen cannisters in her room and hallways. The neighbor believed that these cannisters were the source of the multiple explosions that witnesses heard coming from the home.
Although the cause of this fire is still under investigation, medical oxygen does play a role in an average of over 200 home fires every year.
All Equipment Providers Must Minimize Risks and Provide Thorough Safety Information
Supplemental oxygen is a life-sustaining treatment for people with a variety of respiratory conditions, and on its own, it is not flammable or explosive. Oxygen is, however, an essential part of the combustion process for flammable materials. Adding more oxygen to an environment allows other materials to burn faster and hotter, and to ignite at lower temperatures.
Additionally, virtually any compressed material, including oxygen, can expand when exposed to heat, causing the container around it to explode.
Companies that make products for oxygen users know about these dangers, and have a duty to take every reasonable precaution to address them. For example, equipment designed to be used with oxygen should not incorporate flammable lubricants, or electronics that are prone to sparking.
While it’s not possible to completely eliminate the risks associated with medical oxygen, handling oxygen correctly can greatly reduce the chances of an accident. As well as being designed with safety in mind, oxygen products should include clear safety instructions, advising users to:
- Keep oxygen away from open flames, including those from smoking, cooking, and candles.
- Refrain from using aerosol products and other accelerants in the presence of canned oxygen.
- Store oxygen cannisters upright.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy wherever oxygen is used or stored.
- Check smoke detectors regularly.
- Use bedding and clothing with low flammability and static charge.
- Never leave oxygen running when not in use.
Companies that profit from medical oxygen without giving their customers proper fire safety support can be held liable for resulting accidents.