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Breaking Legal Developments


Published by:
Peter A. Lynch, Esq.
of Cozen O'Connor


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:      This weekly newsletter covers:

  1. Pennsylvania Court Permits Action to Proceed Against Lighter Company
  2. Iowa Court Affirms Arson Conviction


In Phillips v. Crickett Lighters,(Acrobat reader needed) et al, No. 1924 WDA 1999, (April 10, 2001) , the Superior Court of Pennsylvania permitted an action to proceed against lighter manufacturers. Children were playing with a disposable butane lighter without child safety features that resulted in tragic injuries. The trial court had dismissed the case. The Superior Court reversed finding federal law did not preempt the suit. The court held state law provided additional protections not found in federal law..

The court applied the risk utility test and found the action not barred. The danger was great and could have been corrected at minimal cost. Hence, summary judgment was overturned.


In State v. Inman, No. 1-0093/00-0501 (April 11, 2001) , the Iowa Court of Appeals reviewed the defendant's arson conviction. He challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to prove arson.

The court reviewed and found the evidence sufficient. While the State could not positively identify the presence of an accelerant used to start the fire, a fair inference from the evidence presented at trial supported the conclusion one was used. All of the witnesses to the fire testified when they noticed the fire, it was almost all flames rather than smoke. The chief of the fire department testified most accidental fires, such as those that result from faulty wiring or a smoldering cigarette, produce a large amount of smoke before they develop flames. An arson investigator, testified there were several indications the fire was intentionally set. Significantly, there were burn patterns on portions of the porch indicating a flammable liquid had been used. The investigator brought a dog trained specifically to detect accelerants at fire scenes to the scene of the fire during the course of his investigation. The dog indicated very quickly upon his arrival at the scene that an area of the porch contained evidence of accelerants. Although subsequent laboratory testing could not detect an accelerant, the investigator stated it was common because a dog's nose is much more sensitive than the laboratory equipment (there apparently was no challenge to this testimony).

The investigator agreed with the fire chief that the cause could not have been accidental because the fire started too fast and burned very quickly. Finally, the investigator indicated if the fire had been started on the porch by faulty wiring or a cigarette, the fire would have burned upwards seeking more oxygen. The fire in the present case burned across the porch rather than up to the roof, indicating an accelerant was poured along the entire length of the porch. The court concluded there was sufficient evidence in the record to support Inman's convictions of arson in the first degree.

Mr. Lynch can be reached at Cozen and O'Connor, 501 West Broadway, Suite 1610, San Diego, California 92101, 800-782-3366 (voice), 619-234-7831 (fax), (e-mail),, emergency loss assistance - pager (619) 333-2713.

Please direct comments, suggestions, stories, and other items to the author by e-mail at

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