Firefighter Wins $10.6 Million Jury Award for Injuries Sustained as a Result of Faulty Personal Safety Alarm

Mitch Dryer, a former Oneida firefighter catastrophically injured in the 2007 City Lanes fire, received a $10.6 million jury award against defendant Scott Technologies after a three-week civil trial. The six-person jury reached their verdict awarding Dryer $10.6 million in compensatory damages after slightly over four hours of deliberations. While the jury had additionally decided that Dryer was entitled to punitive damages in an amount to be determined upon further deliberation, Dryer’s attorneys and the attorneys for Scott Technologies reached a settlement agreement which protected the company from an award of punitive damages, but also barred it from appealing the compensatory damages award, and required that it pay the award in full by Easter of 2015. 

Dryer sustained serious injuries while fighting a fire at the City Lanes bowling alley located in Oneida, New York on April 22, 2007, and wearing safety equipment manufactured by Scott Technologies that failed to work. Dryer sustained third and fourth-degree burns while trapped under debris, spent months in the hospital, and was forced to have his right arm amputated. Dryer retired from the fire department in 2009.

Scott Technologies was the manufacturer of the PASS alarm worn by Dryer and the other members of the Oneida Fire Department. When working properly, the alarm will emit a 95-decibel tone when the wearer hasn’t moved for at least 30 seconds. This alarm alerts the other firefighters both to the fact that the wearer may be trapped or have been rendered unconscious and as to his or her whereabouts. However, on the day of the City Lanes fire, Dryer’s alarm failed to go off, leaving him trapped under rubble for a full 26 minutes before his crew was able to locate and extricate him. The jury trial to determine Scott Technologies’ degree of responsibility for Dryer’s injuries was exhaustive. The defective PASS alarm in question, presented to the jury, had begun to melt, disconnecting a crucial cable and rendering the device inoperative. Conflicting expert witness testimony was also presented to the jury on the points of whether even a functioning alarm could have prevented Dryer’s injuries, and whether the alarm did, in fact, go off, but was muffled by the debris concealing Dryer.

The company argued in court that it issued a statement to the organization tasked with regulating safety equipment worn by firefighters regarding problems it had discovered with its PASS alarm. However, in a deposition taken of the former Oneida fire chief, Donald Hudson, prior to his death, Hudson testified that he had never received notice from Scott Technologies of problems with the PASS alarms. Additionally, the jury heard testimony that, when activated, the alarms could often be heard from outside, even above the sound of the fire engines. The jury ultimately found that the PASS alarm was not reasonably safe and that Scott Technologies breached their duty by failing to notify the Oneida Fire Department of the defects that the company had uncovered with its PASS alarm.

Companies that make express guarantees of their products’ qualities or abilities to perform certain functions possess a duty to ensure that the products actually perform as guaranteed. When those products fail to perform as promised, and injury results, the user of that product may be owed compensation for the injury caused. If you’ve been injured as a result of a faulty product, contact knowledgeable New York personal injury and product liability attorneys at Basch & Keegan at (845) 251-4545, for help in seeking recovery in Ulster County, Dutchess County, or throughout the Hudson River valley.

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