Defective Hot Water Heaters and Scalding Burn Injuries to Young Children in the Home

November 26, 2012

By: David Jaffe

Reportedly, there are several thousand scalding injuries to young children every year, when bathing at home.

The burn injuries from such an occurrences, together with the permanent physical and emotional scars can be devastating to both children and parents.

The greatest "at risk" group for scalding injuries from washing and bathing is comprised of children under 5 years of age. Also, elderly and disabled persons are at a higher risk as well.

In the case of young children and infants, their skin is thinner, and larger percentages of their bodies are exposed to the scalding water. With elderly and disabled persons, which is also true of infants, their response time in exiting such hot water is greater and therefore they are more vulnerable when exposed to scalding hot water when washing or bathing.

Generally speaking, washing with or bathing in water having a temperature of over 120°F is considered dangerous and may cause severe burns. As just discussed, there is an increased danger to children, elderly and disabled persons. Consequently, a thermostatic mixing valve should be installed to safely control the outlet temperature.

In fact, the number one cause of water being too hot in a tub appears to be the installation of a hot water heater without an accompanying mixing valve either at the "point of source" (at the hot water heater itself) or the "point of use" (where the mechanism is installed at a particular sink or bath tub).

Without a mixing valve, the hot water heater temperature setting can be dangerously misleading in that it measures the temperature of water on the bottom of the hot water heater, which is colder than the water at the top of the hot water heater due to a "layering" or "stacking" effect, which results from the (lighter) hot water rising to the top of the heater.

Additionally, during a typical hot water cycle, a 12°F to 18°F margin of error inherent within the typical water heater system naturally occurs in addition to any "stacking effect."

Furthermore, the water heater should be flushed periodically to wash out calcium deposits, which can otherwise result in corrosion and significantly reduce the accuracy of the measurement of the temperature of the water passing through the system.

Installation of a good mixing valve goes a long way toward alleviating any danger from water that otherwise would be too hot due to a faulty hot water heater or other factors. Also, there are tempering and anti-scalding devices on the market which are relatively inexpensive and effective which can be attached to an unmixed faucet to prevent scalding. Additionally, of course, a homeowner should be careful to report any hot water problems to a qualified professional promptly and make sure that the hot water in their home is carefully tested on a periodic basis.

On the one hand, the water initially needs to be hot to eliminate Legionella bacteria within the water that is being run through the system and used at various end points.

On the other hand, there needs to be a reliable method to measure outlet hot water temperature so the outlet water does not get too hot, in order to prevent potentially catastrophic scalding burns.

A thermostatic mixing valve accomplishes this purpose by allowing the water to remain hot within the water heater, then mixing it thoroughly and controlling the outlet temperature, so that the danger of use of scalding water is virtually eliminated.

Mixing valves are relatively inexpensive. So is proper periodic testing and monitoring of the water temperature at points of use and reasonable maintenance of the hot water system.

If a child is burned by falling or otherwise entering a bath tub which has scalding water in it, and suffers serious or catastrophic burns or even loss of life, a lawyer should be contacted immediately. Preferably, this lawyer should have expertise in the area of scalding burns and defective water heaters and installation of them, as well as in premises and products liability law.

Such an attorney will have access to expert witnesses, such as professional engineers, plumbers, reconstructive surgeons and life care planners.

They will also have the expertise to properly investigate, evaluate and litigate these complex, serious and specialized cases.

Throughout the years I have represented numerous people who have been injured as a result of defective products, including defective water heaters. I have many years of trial experience and a passion to help people, especially young children, who are seriously injured as a result of being scalding by water that was too hot, who likely would have escaped serious injury, if not for a defect within a hot water heater or other consumer product.