Cheap Chinese Imports


Many years ago, when I used to attend rock concerts, I always became concerned when, at the end, the audience would try to coax out the performance of an encore by lighting and holding up for two or three minutes, or even longer, their Bic or other cheap, plastic disposable cigarette lighters, giving the arena an eerie appearance of being filled with tongues of fire.  My concern was that one of those thousands of lighters would have a defect, normally undetectable, except for when the lighter’s fuel nozzle was heated for an unusually prolonged period of time, causing the plastic barrier separating the flame from the butane to melt, with the butane then exploding upon–and burning–the lighter’s owner and others nearby.

A few months ago I learned my concerns were valid, when I read of the lawsuits against the Chinese Zhuoye Lighter Company and its American affiliate, arising out of the experience of William Clemmer, a machinist of Stephenville, Texas, whose torso was engulfed in flame when the disposable lighter he had just used to light a cigarette, exploded in his pocket.  Mr. Clemmer’s last words, en route to a Dallas hospital, were, “My lighter exploded.”  Mr. Clemmer’s survivors reached a small settlement with the American affiliate, but their main case against Zhuoye remains pending in the legal limbo awaiting anyone seeking justice from the Chinese justice system.

Imports account for more than 75% of the U.S. disposable butane lighter market, and Chinese-made lighters account for 58% of the imports.  The best advice is to stop using disposable butane lighters.  Anyone in Pennsylvania injured by a Chinese lighter before June 28, 2011 could obtain full justice by suing Zhuoye’s American affiliate, but anyone injured on and after that date, when the legislature and then Governor Corbett abolished joint liability, will have to sue only Zhuoye here, under complicated international laws, or in China, at great further cost to themselves.

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