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Lawsuit blames light bulb from N.H. factory for fire at Mexican paper mill

Was a fire last year at a Mexican paper mill caused by a defective lightbulb manufactured in Manchester?

That’s the claim in a lawsuit filed against Osram Sylvania, which has three factories in New Hampshire, by the insurer for Kimberly-Clark de Mexico, a manufacturer of disposable paper products whose factory in Morelia, Mexico, was damaged in a June 1, 2012 fire.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 28 in Hillsborough County Superior Court, was moved last week to the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire because it involves a foreign company.

The insurer, Allianz Mexico, is seeking a jury trial and compensation for the money it paid to Kimberly-Clark as a result of the fire.

Osram Sylvania declined to comment on the lawsuit, as did an attorney for Allianz Mexico. Kimberly-Clark didn’t return messages seeking comment.

No one was injured in the fire, but there was “significant property damage” at Kimberly-Clark’s mill in the central Mexican state of Michoacán, according to the lawsuit.

Witnesses said the fire began in an area of the factory where 7-meter-tall stacks of paper were stored, and “as a result of expert investigations, the source of ignition of the fire has been determined to be the catastrophic failure and/or explosion of a High Intensity Discharge, 250-watt metal halide lamp,” the lawsuit states.

That lamp, a type of powerful light bulb, was made by Osram Sylvania, “likely” in Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, according to the lawsuit.

(Osram Sylvania’s Manchester facility “manufactures high-intensity discharge lamps that illuminate our nation’s highways, sports stadiums and numerous other outdoor areas, and provide light in high-ceilinged buildings,” according to the company’s website. It also has factories in Exeter and Hillsboro.)

Allianz’s lawsuit doesn’t specify the damage from the fire, but a July 2012 press release from Kimberly-Clark de Mexico describing second-quarter earnings said the asset write-off (and subsequent insurance payment) was 167 million pesos. That’s about $12.8 million at the current exchange rate.

The insurance company’s lawsuit argues Osram Sylvania should repay it for its cost, plus interest.

The lawsuit claims the lamp was “unreasonably dangerous to the user” and defective in its design, as evidenced by the fact that it exploded and caused a fire. The lawsuit also says the manufacturer was negligent and “failed to provide adequate warnings and instructions,” in part because the lamp didn’t come with Spanish-language instructions.

Osram Sylvania hasn’t yet filed a formal response to Allianz’s lawsuit.

All three companies involved in the lawsuit are multinational firms. Osram Sylvania is the Danvers, Mass.-based North American subsidiary of the German company Osram Licht AG. Kimberly-Clark de Mexico is an affiliate of Irving, Texas-based Kimberly-Clark Corp. And Allianz Mexico is part of the German insurance giant Allianz.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments2

Just when I think I've heard everything, something like this comes along.

This is a product of the victim society in which we live today and the litigious world we live. What a asinine lawsuit.

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