Space Heater Fires

Space heaters are deceptively dangerous products – so much so that the National Fire Protection Association estimates that about a third of house fires in the United States each year are caused by portable space heaters. Space heater fires commonly result in death or serious injury because they are particularly likely to occur late at night when residents are sleeping. Although some of these fires result from user negligence, others are caused by defects in the space heaters themselves.

How Space Heater Fires Happen

Although space heater fires can happen in many different ways; the most common causes of space heater fires are:

  • The heater is placed too close to flammable material such as a mattress
  • The heater itself is defective
  • Product warnings were inadequate

Legal Options

When a space heater causes a damaging fire, the most common remedy is a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. In a product liability lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that the space heater was defective and unreasonably dangerous, and that the defect caused the fire that resulted in the plaintiff’s damages. Three types of product defects may be alleged, depending on the circumstances:

  • A design defect — failure to install an automatic shutoff mechanism in case of tip-over, for example (most commercial space heaters lack this mechanism).
  • A manufacturing defect – the fire was caused by short-circuiting, overheating or heat-damaged internal parts, for example, when the product was well-designed but not manufactured in accordance with its design
  • A warning defect – the product’s documentation failed to warn against refueling the unit in a poorly-ventilated area, for example

In a product liability lawsuit, it is possible to recover damages for personal injury, wrongful death and/or property damage. Intangible losses, such as grief at the loss of a loved one, are commonly awarded in amounts that greatly exceed the amount awarded for tangible damages such as medical bills.


More than a dozen brands of space heaters have been recalled over the years due to safety issues. Unfortunately, notice of space heater recalls rarely reach most consumers, resulting in the continued use of a product that even its manufacturer admits is dangerous. If you suspect that your space heater is subject to a recall, the website of the product manufacturer should offer this information.

The Sunbeam Case

In 2015, the family of a California woman killed in a space heater fire was awarded a staggering $59.3 million over a design and warning defect that caused a space heater fire. Although the space heater, designed by Sunbeam Products, Inc., warned of the danger of positioning the space heater within three feet of flammable materials, it failed to warn consumers that objects might be knocked within the three-foot exclusion zone, and its design failed to take this risk into account.

Product liability lawsuits can be legally complex and require significant technical knowledge (expert witnesses are sometimes necessary to establish liability). If you have been harmed by a space heater fire, it might be wise to contact a product liability lawyer in your jurisdiction.