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Toddler Loses Leg and all her Fingers in Pressure Cooker Explosion

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Miami, FLTwo-year old Samantha Gonzalez was grievously burned in 2015, when her grandmother’s Tristar “As Seen on TV” pressure cooker malfunctioned. The damage will last as long as Samantha lives. Exploding pressure cooker injuries have been the source of many lawsuits. But this is not the kind of case that leads to a tidy legal resolution. Like life, it’s messy.

It involves a caretaking grandmother with a disability, a suspicious noise from an arguably dangerous kitchen appliance, a disastrous spill and an opportunistic hospital infection. Samantha had the bad luck to be at the losing end of this chain of events. Does anybody pay for this? Who will take care of Samantha for the rest of her life?

In September 2015, Samantha’s grandmother was bathing her in the kitchen sink because her disability prevented her from bending down to bathe her granddaughter in the bathtub. The grandmother heard the pressure cooker make "a loud whistling noise." Thinking the pot was about to burst, she grabbed it so it would not spray on Samantha, but it accidentally fell from her hands onto the child, burning the toddler badly.
Samantha suffered second- and third-degree burns to 60 percent of her body. She was immediately transferred to the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Burn Center, where she stayed for 215 days. In the hospital, she developed a fungal infection and was put on a high dose of medication. That medication affected her blood circulation and ultimately forced the amputation of her limbs. It’s a complicated mess of causes.

In legal terms, however, every first-year law student will recognize this as a question of “proximate cause.” Would Samantha’s injuries have happened but for her grandmother’s fear that the pressure cooker was going to explode? Was her fear of an explosion reasonable?

None of us were there in the kitchen, of course, but there is ample evidence that Tristar pressure cookers explode and badly injure people. Exploding pressure cooker lawsuits have been filed throughout the United States. Her grandmother may have been aware of this in a specific or a general way.

Either way, Samantha will need care for many years. Life with one leg, no fingers and disfiguring scars will not be easy. What about the other Samanthas or their families – the home cooks who are simply interested in dinner in a hurry? The early cases for Tristar exploding pressure cookers will have the most straightforward facts. But life in the kitchen can get messy. Establishing some early precedents about the dangers of defective pressure cookers can go a long way toward dealing with the more complicated sets of facts and causes that are sure to arise.

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