Paraplegic Woman Sues GM for Burn Injury
Woman alleges seat heater caused a third-degree burn.
On a visit home in June of 2012, Emma Verrill hitched a ride in a friend’s Chevy Suburban and ended up with a palm-sized third degree burn on her rear end from the vehicle’s malfunctioning heated seat. The 26-year-old has recently filed a complaint with the US District Court alleging that GM was negligent in failing to properly test their seat heaters so that they would not reach dangerously high temperatures.
Verrill, who is paralyzed from the waist down, could not tell the seat had gotten dangerously hot because she lacks temperature sensation in her legs. In fact, she did not even realize she had been burned until she woke up the next morning.
The burn injury was very severe. Verrill’s doctors found that the skin beneath the burn blister was badly scarred, and were forced to give her a skin graft to replace it. Verrill spent almost three months in bed at her parents’ house recovering from the injury and subsequent surgery. Her parents had to take time off from their jobs to take care of her, handling all her daily needs from bandage changes to meals to bathroom visits. The healed skin in the burned area is now very vulnerable to repeat injury. If Verrill should ever get a pressure sore or other injury in this area, she could face another lengthy stint in bed.
In addition to the physical pain of the injury, Verrill would also be eligible to seek compensation for the mental and emotional anguish that attended the event. She has described the experience as a “depressing” experience she would not wish on her worst enemy, which is probably only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how this spell of complete helplessness made this fiercely independent and active young woman feel.
Verrill has been paralyzed since 2003, following a botched operation intended to correct a painful exaggerated curve in her spine. However, she has never been content to live the life of an invalid. After attending Bowdoin College, Verrill traveled to France on her own and taught English there for two years. At the time of the burn injury, she was earning her Masters in Education from UT Austin at night while teaching full time during the day.
Verrill’s attorneys have said that they have found her case to be exceptional and have not been daunted by GM’s complete denial of responsibility for the burn injury. They are currently seeking an unspecified amount in damages to cover past and future medical expenses and noneconomic damages.