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St. Petersburg Considering Replacement of Firefighter Helmets

Before becoming the mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman was an attorney who represented firefighters that were injured by faulty and defective helmets. Now as mayor, he is considering the replacement of all firefighting headgear for the city’s firefighters. This comes in the wake of multiple product liability cases alleging that the current helmets caused serious injury to St. Petersburg firefighters.

Replacing the Helmets

The current model of helmet used by the St. Petersburg firefighters is a 1044 Cairns model. The city switched to this model of helmet in 2010 when it changed from the “Philadelphia style” to the “New York City style” of helmet. If all 313 helmets were replaced for the city, it would cost $60,000; however, city officials are hopeful that if purchased in bulk the city may be able to save some money. Mayor Kriseman has stated that he also wants to purchase the new helmets “out of an abundance of caution” and because he wants his city’s firefighters to have the best possible equipment.

Product Liability Lawsuits Pending

Currently, there are five product liability lawsuits pending by active and retired firefighters of St. Petersburg who claim that the defective helmets caused serious neck injuries. They filed their lawsuits in Pinellas-Pasco County Court with the claims that the city-issued helmets had design flaws that led to their injuries. According to the lawsuits, the helmets are unbalanced and as a result cause neck and back injuries when worn.

The firefighters were referred to as “bobbleheads” in lawsuits for the head and neck movements that the helmets cause. One former firefighter directly attributes his retirement to the faulty helmets, stating “I had to retire because of the helmet. I’ve been basically homebound for two years.” He was the first of five firefighters to raise issues regarding the defective nature of the helmets. This firefighter filed a workers’ compensation lawsuit against the city, as well, which has yet to be resolved.

All five firefighters have filed lawsuits against the manufacturer of the helmet, Mine Safety Appliance, in addition to the distributor, Ten-8 Fire Equipment, Inc. Since the filing of the lawsuits by St. Petersburg firefighters, other fire departments across the state and country that use this particular type of helmet are looking into claims. This has the potential to turn into a massive class action lawsuit if these product liability claims can be substantiated.

Florida Product Liability Law

In Florida, product liability lawsuits are governed and defined by state law. Fla. Stat. 768.81 defines a products liability case as a claim that a person was injured because of the manufacture, construction, design, formulation, installation, preparation, or assembly of a product based on strict liability, negligence, breach of warranty, nuisance, or other legal theory. The injured person must prove that were it not for the defective product, they would not have sustained their damages.

Florida law also imposes strict deadlines for the filing of a product liability case. Under Fla. Stat. 95.031, a product liability lawsuit must be filed in court within four years from the time when the injury is or should have been discovered. In addition, the law provides that a product liability lawsuit cannot be filed in cases where a person was injured by a product that has a useful life of ten years or less if the product has been used for twelve years or more, which is known as the repose period.

A person can also bring a claim of product liability if the injuries caused in an accident were enhanced because of the faulty product. An example of this type of case would be when a person sues an airbag manufacturer because the airbag did not deploy after a car accident. In both types of cases, Florida law uses comparative and contributory fault to determine the proper amount of damages.

Florida Fault Rules

For product liability cases and other claims of negligence, Florida applies a comparative fault rule to determine the proper amount of damages in a case. This rule applies to all economic and non-economic damages in the case, including past and future lost income, medical and funeral expenses, lost support and services, personal property, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and any other costs that are reasonably related to the product liability case.

In order to apply the comparative fault rule, a judge or jury will first determine the total amount of damages in the case. Then, they will apportion a percentage of damages to each party involved. The injured party will receive the percentage of damages that they were deemed to have not caused in the accident. For example, if the total damage in a product liability case is $100,000 and the injured party was found to be twenty percent at fault, then they would receive $80,000 in compensation.

Defenses to Product Liability Claims

Typically, there are a few standard defenses that manufacturers and distributors will try to use to get out of product liability lawsuits. One common defense is product misuse – where the claim is that the person who was injured misused the product in some way or used the product in a way that is unexpected. Another common defense is that the injured person altered the product before the injury was caused. However, the alteration must be substantial, such as removing a safety guard near a blade. Finally, the defendants in a product liability case may claim that the product was not defective when it left the control of their hands.

Contact Our Office Today

You never expect to be hurt by the products that you own, especially when it is safety equipment. If you or someone that you know has been injured in a product liability case in Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, or West Palm Beach the experienced attorneys at The Pendas Law Firm are here to help you with your legal needs. Call or contact the office today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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