Interim ban on ethanol burners after a spate of accidents & injuries
9th Feb 2017
Late last year there were a number of announcements about the interim, 60-day, banning of ethanol burners in Queensland, and across other states and territories. The ban follows 38 incidents in Queensland and 117 in total across Australia since 2010 in which many Australians suffered injuries – including a number of very serious burn injury cases.
The victims include a 28-year-old Western Australian woman who suffered serious burns to her face and body when an ethanol burner exploded in her backyard. A similar incident in Queensland also left two others with serious, life-altering burn injuries. Our firm acts for claimants who have sustained terrible burn injuries as a result of these incidents.
Typically, the incidents occur when the burners are being refilled while they are still very hot or have a residual flame that is hard to detect. It’s in these instances when the ethanol vapour can explode, resulting in burns and other injuries.
The ban sees the removal of the burners from sale by all retailers and imposes hefty fines on those who don’t comply. Individuals who continue to sell (or resell) the burners will face penalties of up to $220,000, while corporations will face up to $1.1m in fines.
The ban can be extended or made permanent but only time will tell which will be the case. Given the number of incidents, we can only hope that the ban is made permanent throughout Australia.
For the individuals who have suffered in these accidents, the aftermath can be life-altering – for more serious cases there are ongoing surgeries, compression wear and a sombre array of other life-long impacts.
Given the numerous ongoing medical expenses, as well as impacts upon working ability, victims often face huge financial burdens on top of the physical and mental trauma. Given these circumstances, burn victims and their families often look to possible avenues for compensation.
In the majority of these cases there are multiple parties against whom the claim can be brought. These can include the retailer, importer and manufacturer. If the accident occurred while the victim was at someone else’s home, there is typically also a claim made against the home owner and the insurer of that person’s property, or the occupier of the home.
In these instances, as long as there is a home and contents policy in place, it is not the individual or host who is required to pay the compensation, rather their home and contents insurer.
Given the ban, and the much publicised problems with these types of burners, the question of how far a home owner’s duty extends is an important discussion point.
Ordinarily, in order to succeed in a claim for damages against the home owner, a potential claimant would need to prove that the home owner knew that the burners were likely to explode, that they had failed to follow procedures set for refuelling the burner, or give proper instruction to a person who was doing the refuelling.
But now, with the ban in place, the situation may be much more like a strict liability type of situation, where the home owner has continued to use the burner despite the ban on retailers selling and the very strong warning that owners stop using the burners.
In the event that the ban is made permanent, there may be some impact upon the claims process with respect to the possibility of criminal charges, and the impact these may have upon home and contents insurances policies and indemnity for such claims against the policy.
Faran Gouldson is the sole director of Gouldson Legal, a Queensland personal injury plaintiff litigation firm which was established in 1998.
He has over 20 years’ experience in Queensland personal injury law and understands the challenges that clients face when approaching compensation claims. Faran has worked with thousands of injured Queenslanders and now specialises predominantly in especially complex and catastrophic claims.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).