A Cook County jury has awarded $10.7 million to the estate of a young girl who died after suffering severe burns in scalding bath water.
The verdict came Wednesday in plaintiff Bryant King’s product-liability suit.
He sued the American Water Heater Co. in 2011, alleging the company dangerously manufactured a water heater without an anti-scalding valve that could have prevented his then 18-month-old daughter Mikayla from suffering second-degree burns during a bath in February and dying that April as a result of her injuries.
The day of the incident, Mikayla’s mother Jennifer King was home from work with her and then-4-year-old daughter Kiera while her two sons were at school.
While folding laundry in a separate room, King shouted to Kiera that she need not run Mikayla’s bath because it was almost time to pick her sons up from school. Moments later, she heard Mikayla screaming from the bathroom and quickly ran to remove her from the bath water Kiera ran despite her mother’s orders not to.
A police investigation conducted two days after the incident recorded water temperatures leaving the Kings’ bathtub spout at 134 and 138 degrees.
The child was air-transferred from a local hospital to Loyola Medical Center, where she underwent 19 surgeries in nearly two months to try to repair the second-degree scald burns she received on about half of her body during those few seconds in the tub, said Jay Paul Deratany — a partner at the Deratany Law Firm who represented Mikayla’s estate.
“They tried to keep her in a medical coma, and there’s times where she’d come out of it and there’d be pain,” he said. “They had to amputate her right leg, and the infection still wouldn’t stop and she died.”
The water heater that heated Mikayla’s bath water included a thermostat that outlined settings in “hot,” “warm,” and “vacation,” Deratany said. It did not include an anti-scalding valve that comes standard in the boxes of other more expensive models.
And while it wasn’t the first time someone in the Kings’ household noticed abnormally hot water coming from their faucets, Deratany said, previous instances had only arisen on a few non-specific and less serious occasions.
“Bryan remembers two occasions where the water was a little hot, but never like that, and never did they ever know that the water would come out to the point where it would hospitalize or kill their baby,” he said.
Filed in Cook County Circuit Court, King’s suit alleged American Water Heater created a dangerous condition when it designed, distributed and sold a water heater that didn’t come with an anti-scalding device. He argued the anti-scalding valve should come as an integral component to the heater to prevent water from being able to reach such dangerous levels.
Dennis C. Cusack, a partner at Johnson & Bell Ltd., represented the defendant along with James H. Keale, a partner in Sedgwick LLP’s Newark, N.J. office.
Cusack and Keale deferred comment to a spokesman for A.O. Smith Corp., the defendant’s parent company. The spokesman could not be reached for comment.
After a week of trial before Associate Judge James E. Snyder, the jury awarded Mikayla’s estate $1.8 million for grief, sorrow and mental suffering; $1.8 million for loss of society; $1.8 million for loss of a normal life; $1.8 million for conscious pain and suffering; $1.8 million for emotional distress; $713,601 for Mikayla’s medical expenses and $1 million for the loss of benefit the child would likely have contributed to the future.
Deratany said while the family is pleased with the result, they recognized their case was more about trying to prevent a similar incident in other families’ homes.
“This family was really broken apart and devastated, and they knew all along that this was never about them getting compensated,” he said. “Jennifer King said, ‘I just want this not to happen to other kids.’”
Megan S. O’Connor, an associate at Deratany’s firm, also represented the estate.
The case is Bryant King v. Whirlpool et al., 11 L 5001.