Who Is To Blame?

A mother of three children, Rosemary, was in bed in her apartment in the Bronx, watching television with her seventeen month old daughter, Sapphire. Rosemary had just told her older son to take a bath (age 13), and she heard the bathwater running down the hall. Sapphire got up off of the bed and walked down the hall while Rosemary continued watching TV. Moments later, Rosemary heard Sapphire screaming and ran to the bathroom, where Sapphire had fallen in the tub and was scalded by the hot tub water. Rosemary immediately began taking Sapphire's steaming clothes off, and noted that Sapphire's skin was coming off, too. She was rushed to the hospital, but Sapphire remains badly disfigured by her burns years later.

Sapphire and her mother sued the building owners, the company that maintained the building's hot water boiler, and the company that supplied the fuel to the building, claiming that they were responsible for Sapphire's injuries because the water from the tap was dangerously hot. The building owner, fuel company and boiler company countered by alleging that Sapphire was injured solely as a result of Rosemary's poor supervision of Sapphire. An appellate court in Manhattan ruled for the defendants and threw the case out, stating "A landlord cannot be required to adjust the hot water temperature to protect children from adults who fail to do so."

Rosemary and Sapphire appealed the case to New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, which restored the case against the building owner and boiler company, and directed that a trial be held to determine who is to blame for Sapphire's injuries.

What do you think? Is it mom's fault that Sapphire got burned, or the defendants? A few other tenants had complained over the years that the water was too hot, but this also proves that Rosemary, who had lived in the building for years, also knew it was very hot.

NOTE: Each year over 3,800 people are burned by hot tap water in the home, resulting in an average of 34 deaths per year. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that you lower your water heater temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid injury, and save money.

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