Motts vs. Mohasco Upholstered Furniture Corp. and Rhodes, Inc.
South Carolina, Spartanburg Common Pleas
Civil Action Nos. 97-CP-42-1460, -1461, -1462
Filed June 17, 1997

David Motts, 28, and his wife Deana, 25, awoke to a fire raging in the den of their home. David suffered burns over 85% of his body while attempting to rescue their 3 year-old son Aaron, who escaped from a window with his grandmother Brenda in an adjacent bedroom. Aaron and Brenda sustained relatively minor injuries. Deana did not escape her bedroom, and died. She is survived by David, Aaron, and 2 year-old daughter Darian. She was employed as a cashier with present value earning capacity losses of $300,000.00.

David spent 6 months in a hospital burn unit. His medical expenses were $720,000.00. Employed as a roofer, he is disabled. The present value of his earning capacity loss is $600,000.00. His life care plan has present value of $3.1 million.

Plaintiffs sued Mohasco (manufacturer) and Rhodes, the retailer of the sofa (View complaint) which was ignited by the 3 year-old with an unidentified cigarette lighter, alleging the fabric covering and cushioning components, including non-fire retardant petroleum based polyurethane foam, were excessively flammable, causing the fire to grow and spread so rapidly as to prevent injury free escape from the burning home. Mohasco manufactured a similar sofa containing fire retardant foam for sale in California, a state which required it.

Plaintiffs also claimed Defendants failed to adequately warn of the extreme flammability of the sofa. Discovery revealed that the manufacturer discarded warnings received with shipments of PU from foam suppliers explaining the dangers of burning PU foam, stating that they could not sell sofas if their product contained such warnings. The National Association of Fire Marshals has in 1999 petitioned the CPSC to require furniture makers to pass these warnings on to the consumer.

Testing of an exemplar sofa in a test chamber revealed a ceiling temperature of 1,830 degrees F. and a rate of heat release in excess of 3 million watts in less than 3-1/2 minutes from ignition. (View full scale exemplar sofa test burn)

The parties reached a confidential settlement in May, 1999.

The Plaintiffs' expert witnesses included Gordon Damant, upholstered furniture flammability, Sacramento, CA; Joseph B. Zicherman, cause and origin and fire dynamics, Berkeley, CA; Richard Henderson, cause and origin, Florence, SC; Benson Hecker, vocational and life care planning, Greenville, SC; and Charles Alford, economics, Greenville, SC.