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05/19/89 Richard D. Puckett, v. Empire Stove Company

May 19, 1989





Telephone and Telegraph Company,

Third-Party, Defendant-Appellee;

Getty Oil


Third-Party, Defendant)

No. 5-87-0372

539 N.E.2d 420, 183 Ill. App. 3d 181, 132 Ill. Dec. 110 1989.IL.769

Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. Joseph F. Cunningham, Judge, presiding.


PRESIDING JUSTICE WELCH delivered the opinion of the court. LEWIS, J., concurs. JUSTICE HARRISON, specially Concurring.


Plaintiff, Richard D. Puckett, brought an action in the circuit court of St. Clair County to recover for personal injuries incurred in a fire which broke out in the house he was renting from defendants, Honore Ghibaudy and Florence Ghibaudy (hereinafter Ghibaudys). Plaintiff alleged that the fire was caused by the defective condition of a floor furnace manufactured by defendant Empire Stove Company and installed by defendant Honore Ghibaudy.

Count I of plaintiff's complaint was directed to Empire Stove Company (hereinafter referred to as Empire) and alleged, in pertinent part, that at the time the floor furnace left the control of Empire it was in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition in that the gas valve component contained a "jumper" which short-circuited and rendered inoperable the high temperature limit control switches, and further that, despite the fact that Empire knew or should have known that "jumpers" may be found on the valve supplied with the furnace or on replacement valves, the furnace failed to have affixed to it adequate warnings to the effect that "jumpers" should not be used on the gas valve of the furnace. Count II of plaintiff's complaint was directed to the Ghibaudys and alleged that they had negligently installed the floor furnace with a "jumper" attached to the gas valve component which short-circuited and rendered inoperable the high temperature limit control switches on the furnace.

Ghibaudys filed a third-party complaint for contribution against the manufacturer of the gas valve, International Telephone and Telegraph Company (hereinafter referred to as ITT), alleging that at the time the gas valve left the control of ITT, it was defective and unreasonably dangerous in that it was wired so as to circumvent a high temperature limit control switch and that it provided no warning of the danger involved. Plaintiff did not sue ITT.

The furnace in question was situated in the crawl space of the home and radiated heat upward through a grate-covered hole cut in the floor. The furnace was designed for such use. The furnace contained a safety device called a limit switch which was designed to shut the furnace off in the event the grate was covered and heat built up in the furnace to a dangerous level. The furnace utilized gas and had a valve which controlled the flow of gas into the burner assembly of the furnace. This valve contained four electric terminals to control operation of the valve. Terminals one and two were connected to the generator, which supplied electricity for operation of the valve and thermostat. Terminals three and four were connected to the thermostat, which was placed on a wall in the house. Terminal three was a dead terminal in that it had nothing connected to it from the inside of the valve. It received its electrical power from terminal two. The wires from the limit switch were connected to terminal two. The electric terminals worked in a series, so that if electricity was interrupted at any point, the terminals thereafter would receive no electricity.

When the thermostat in the house demanded more heat,it closed the circuit to terminal four, which caused the gas valve to open, allowing gas into the burner assembly. If the temperature inside the furnace reached a certain level, the limit switch would open, stopping the electric current from flowing from terminal two to terminals three and four, thereby closing the gas valve and shutting off the furnace. However, a problem arises when a metal "jumper" clip is installed between terminals two and three. This allows electricity to flow between these two terminals, circumventing the limit switch and allowing the gas valve to remain open, supplying gas to the burner and overriding the command of the limit switch to turn the gas valve off.

The furnace was designed for, and manufactured with, a gas valve manufactured by ITT and designated a B67RB88 valve. This valve was manufactured by ITT specifically for Empire. The B67RB88 valve is a right-angle or 90 degrees valve, rather than a straight through or 180 degrees valve. Its inlet is one-half inch in diameter, and its outlet is three-eighths inch in diameter. The furnace was designed and manufactured to accommodate this size valve. The electric terminals are raised and at 90 degrees to the valve axis. This valve was manufactured by ITT and sold to Empire without a jumper attached to its terminals or included therewith.

The gas valve found on the furnace after the fire had also been manufactured by ITT, but was designated a B67RA28 valve. These valves were manufactured especially for and sold exclusively to two companies, neither of which was Empire. The B67RA28 valve is a straight through or 180 degrees valve with a one-half inch inlet and a one-half inch outlet. The B67RA28 valve provides for the pilot downstream, whereas the B67RB88 valve provides that the pilot be located on the upstream or inlet side of the valve. The electric terminals on the B67RA28 were flat and along the valve axis, rather than raised and at 90 degrees to the valve axis, as in the B67RB88 valve. The B67RA28 valve is normally sold with a jumper attached to it. The valve could not be attached to the furnace in question without a bushing, and the valve found on the furnace after the fire had a bushing on the outlet to decrease its diameter from one-half inch to three-eights inch. There was also a flared elbow attached to the valve found on the furnace after the fire to make it a right-angle valve.

At the time the furnace was manufactured, Empire did not carry the bushing, elbow or flaring tool to construct or attach the valve found on the furnace. Further, a straight through valve could not have been placed on the furnace by Empire when the furnace was assembled because it could not have gone through the testing stage of the assembly process. Finally, Empire never ordered or received a straight through valve from ITT.

When sold, the furnace had affixed to it just above the gas valve a wiring diagram showing how to connect wires to the terminals on the valve. The wiring diagram does not show a jumper clip, but does not warn that a jumper clip should not be used. The diagram does, however, state,"must be wired as shown above." The furnace was sold with an installer's manual, which states, "Check combination valve terminals for shorts, or a jumper between the two inside terminals -- jumper should not be there when temperature limit controls are used." This statement is contained in a section of the manual which ...

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