The family of Dr. Judith Buys, the founder of Cornerstone Family Dentistry in Peterborough who died in 2016 after suffering burns to most of her body, has launched a $12-million negligence lawsuit against the manufacturer of an ethanol-fuelled lamp.
“It is the hope of the family of Dr. Judith Buys that this lawsuit will draw attention to the serious and recognized hazard of ethanol-fuelled lamps,” says Toronto critical injury lawyer John McLeish, partner with McLeish Orlando LLP, who is representing the Buys family.
“The manufacturer Brasa Europe GmbH and distributer Brasa Fire Inc. should have known that their product could cause serious harm,” McLeish says.
The statement of claim, filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, alleges that the Brasa companies “designed, manufactured, packaged, and sold an unsafe ethanol-fuelled lamp and open refuelling container,” which “they failed to adequately test” before distribution.
The August 13, 2016 tragedy occurred at a Burnt River cottage, where neighbours Dr. Buys and her husband Dr. James McGorman, an ER doctor in Peterborough, were visiting during a power outage, says the claim.
According to the claim, the lamp was placed on a porch table as a light source. Later, when the flame began to fade, one of the hosts, “after waiting what she thought to be sufficient time,” got the open refuelling container in order to pour ethanol into the lamp.
“Because there was no flame arrester installed on the open refuelling container,” as the host poured the ethanol, “a flash fire started, causing flames and ethanol to jet out of the open refuelling container in the direction of Judith Buys,” the claim states.
The flames and ethanol struck Dr. Buys, a 55-year-old mother of two, “causing her to suffer burn injuries to most of her body,” says the claim, adding the ethanol “continued to burn, causing her to suffer further injuries. She was rushed to hospital, but lived only for approximately two and a half days, before passing away on August 16, 2016.”
“My wife’s death was entirely preventable,” says Dr. McGorman. “We have launched this suit to bring the needed attention to the danger of ethanol-fuelled lamps. It is outrageous that these products are still being sold.”
The Brasa companies “knew or should have known that the flame on the ethanol-fuelled lamp was sometimes invisible or very difficult to see and that some consumers would think the flame was extinguished, when it, in fact, was not,” it is further alleged.
The claim states that representatives of the Brasa companies “should have known that when some consumers could not see a flame on the ethanol-fuelled lamp, these same consumers would attempt to add ethanol from the open refuelling container to the ethanol-fuelled lamp.”
Representatives of the Brasa companies “should have known that any flame visible or invisible in the ethanol-fuelled lamp was an ignition source, and that vapours from the open refuelling container could act like an invisible wick, leading to combustion of the remaining ethanol in the open refuelling container,” alleges the statement of claim.
Notwithstanding this knowledge, the Brasa companies “did not provide barrier protection or a flame arrester on the open refuelling container, to prevent combustion of the ethanol in the open refuelling container, triggered by the flame, visible or invisible, remaining in the ethanol-fuelled lamp,” the claim alleges.
The statement of claim further alleges that the Brasa companies “did not provide any or sufficient warning that the design and manufacture of the ethanol-fuelled lamp and open refuelling container presented a serious and recognized hazard, and proceeded to package and deliver both the ethanol-fuelled lamp and open refuelling container” for distribution throughout North America.
“This suit is a chance to prevent other tragedies,” McLeish says.