Athens lawyers battle over release of information regarding effectiveness of certain smoke detectors

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ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) - A Limestone County lawsuit could decide what type of smoke detector you are able to buy and use in your home.

It all stems from a fire earlier this year that claimed the lives of an elderly woman and her daughter. Attorneys say not only did their smoke detector fail to go off, they claim the very design of the smoke detector is defective and they want them taken off the market.

It's a problem we've been aware of and reported on long before that fatal fire.

WHNT News 19's Chief Investigative Reporter Carrie Marchese revealed in a special report last year that ionization smoke detectors don't always go off, even in a container filled with toxic smoke. Her report was played in court today, and unfortunately, it was the same type of smoke detector that prompted the lawsuit.

"It took 20 minutes for this ionization alarm to go off," Marchese demonstrated in her report.

Carrie's report served as the backdrop Wednesday as attorneys argued over the release of test studies on the smoke detectors and just how much information would be made available to try the case.

"We're requesting information that will show that their product is defective and they're just doing their job resisting it and we come to the court and let the court decide whether we get that information or not," explained Richard Taylor, one of several attorneys involved in the lawsuit against the manufacturers of several brands of smoke detectors, BRK Electronics.

Their legal team declined to comment for this story. But one of them, Robert Hayes, of Philadelphia, told the court the smoke detectors, "…Can't save everybody in all circumstances," and they recommend people use both types of smoke detectors in their homes.

"Well ultimately, we would like for this lawsuit and other lawsuits like this to take ionization smoke detectors off the market. But ionization smoke alarms represent hundreds of millions of dollars in income to the smoke alarm industry so they're not going to roll over just because some lawyers down in Alabama have sued them," Taylor said.

At Wednesday's hearing attorneys argued about how much information would be made available to hear the lawsuit, and what would happen to that information once the lawsuit is settled. Attorneys who filed the suit say the company has test results that prove the ionization alarms are inadequate, while BRK's attorneys continue to fight the release of that information.

The other type of smoke detector on the market is called a photoelectric alarm, and is believed to be much more reliable. Many experts believe you should have both types in your home.

1 Comment

  • Harry Chickpea

    Both types have their place. In a shop environment with dust and sawdust, a photoelectric type would get permanently shut off because of false alarms. The better answer are the smart detectors which incorporate both types of detection and balance the two inputs to limit the errors. Just like car alarms, after a certain amount of annoyance alarms people will ignore or disable the offending technology.

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