A deceased business owner’s estate has brought a somewhat novel products liability action regarding dry ice. In a state other than West Virginia, a restaurant owner died about a year ago when he got trapped in the cooler of one of his establishments. His estate filed suit against several parties, alleging negligence in his death and in one instance also making a claim for a defective product that caused or contributed to his death.

The cooler had been stocked with five hundred pounds of dry ice due to a power outage. Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide which is not generally considered a dangerous gas. The press report claims that the man died of carbon monoxide poisoning but that is likely a mistake – dry ice emits carbon dioxide and not carbon monoxide.

In the defective product count, the estate is seeking $10 million from a company that supplied the dry ice. The suit alleges that the company recommended that the restaurant use the large quantity of dry ice to cool the walk-in cooler during the power outage. The suit alleges that the company provided the dry ice, a defective or unreasonably dangerous product ‘without proper notice’ of the dangers.

The complaint further alleges that a material safety data sheet was not provided. It alleges also that a handling guide warning of the dangers of dry ice was not provided to the restaurant. When the power was restored, the man went to check on the cooler. The door slammed shut, and he was locked inside and died by being overwhelmed by the large concentration of the gas.

Most sources warn against the use of dry ice in a walk-in cooler or large enclosed container. Using a large amount in a large enclosed space is dangerous because it emits copious amounts of carbon dioxide gas, which can be fatal if inhaled to excess. It may be accurate under West Virginia law to claim dry ice is a defective product that is unreasonably dangerous. It may also be referred to as negligence by the company for recommending the use of a large amount of the ice in an enclosed space, which it should have known to be a dangerous use of the product, and for failing to warn of that danger.

Source: Nashville Business Journal, “Family of late Germantown Cafe East restaurateur sues police, cooler company,” Eric Snyder, June 18, 2013