Daughter of man burned to death in motorized wheelchair sues device manufacturer and retailer

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jan 22, 2018

PITTSBURGH – The daughter of a man burned to death, allegedly due to an electrical failure of his motorized wheelchair, is suing the companies responsible for designing and selling the device.

Tamarah L. Pritchard (administratrix for the Estate of the late Marris E. Pritchard) of Pittsburgh filed suit in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on Jan. 10 versus United Seating and Mobility, LLC (doing business as “Numotion”) of Penn Hills, and Permobil, Inc., of Lebanon, Tenn.

During the relevant time period, Marris suffered from left superior frontal lobe anaplastic astrocytoma, which was in remission, but left him with residual right-sided spasticity, for which he required the use of a wheelchair.

On or about July 25, 2012, defendant Permobil manufactured an M300 Power Wheelchair, which Marris obtained from United Seating and Mobility in identical condition as to when it was created, and the suit claims Marris utilized the device for its ordinary and intended use, made no material modifications or changes to the wheelchair and never misused the wheelchair.

On Jan. 11, 2016, the complaint reads Marris was seated in his wheelchair in the kitchen of his residence, when the electrical components of the wheelchair failed and caught fire. Due to Marris’s medical condition, he was not able to escape the wheelchair and activated an alarm which signaled the Pittsburgh Fire Department to come to his aid, the suit says.

Upon entrance to the residence, the suit says first responders found Marris in the wheelchair, which was still engulfed in flames. After the fire was extinguished, medical personnel extricated Marris from the wheelchair, placed him on a stretcher and transported him to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the suit says.

Marris was breathing spontaneously, able to communicate with medical personnel and was “in severe distress”, reporting no loss of consciousness and “extreme pain.” Doctors determined Marris had suffered burns to 80 to 90 percent of his body, including to his anterior and posterior head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, abdomen, thoracic, pelvis and legs, the suit says.

Though physicians performed emergency escharotomies of the upper and lower extremities to relieve the pressure caused by the burns, Marris died on Jan. 12, 2016 due to the severity of his injuries.

Specifically, Marris sustained second and third-degree burns to his anterior neck; third-degree burns to his posterior neck; third-degree burns to his abdomen and flanks; second-degree burns to his penis; third-degree burns to his scrotum; third-degree burns to his groin; circumferential third-degree burns to all four extremities; third-degree burns to his anterior chest; second-degree burns to his face; third-degree burns to his ears and scalp; smoke inhalation injuries; multiple surgeries; pain and suffering; emotional distress; medical expenses; loss of life’s pleasures; disfigurement and death, the suit says.

The plaintiff charges the defendants should have known of the fire danger associated with the electrical components of the Permobil M300 Power Wheelchair, that the wheelchair was made of flammable and non-fireproof materials and that the device posed a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death, among numerous other claims.

For multiple counts of strict liability, breach of warranties, negligence, survival and wrongful death, the plaintiff is seeking damages in excess of the local arbitration limits and in excess of $35,000.

The plaintiff is represented by Shanin Specter and Michael A. Trunk of Kline & Specter in Philadelphia, plus Jason M. Schiffman and Daniel S. Schiffman of the Schiffman Firm, in Pittsburgh.

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas case GD-18-000462

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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