On the 5 April 2006, Duncan MacDougall was demonstrating a hand flare for the purposes of a training video. The hand flare was a Pains Wessex White Collision Warning Hand Flare used at sea to warn shipping about untoward events.

Duncan, armed the flare in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and at arms length, pushed the firing plunger in. The hand flare ignited and an explosion occurred. Instead of firing into the air and away from Duncan, the hand flare “backfired” into his abdomen. The hand flare canister became embedded in Duncan’s abdomen and burned at 3000 degrees centigrade for the advertised 60 seconds. This caused significant damage to Duncan’s right hand and abdomen.

Duncan was taken to Wexham Park Hospital where he was treated for very serious injuries. He had immediate surgery and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit where he remained for 4 months.

Duncan lost most of his large bowel, his spleen, some of his pancreas and the tip of the middle finger on his right hand.

His right hand was reconstructed through plastic surgery and is partially working. He also has a stoma. Duncan remained in hospital for a total of 9 months and came home at the end of December 2006.

Sadly Duncan still has significant pain, suffers from PTSD and is at the moment still not able to return to his previous work as a voiceover artist for radio and television commercials or as a course leader for training sailors.

The accident was clearly caused by the breach of duty of the manufacturers, Pains Wessex and the Consumer Protection Act 1997 applied.

Nevertheless, and surprisingly, the defendants argued that the accident was caused or contributed to by Duncan’s own negligence.

The defendants argued that contrary to its own instructions that Duncan should have held the hand flare parallel to his own body so that if there had been a malfunction the flare would not have struck him.

The defendant’s arguments on contributory negligence were not successful and the claim was settled on a full liability basis for a substantial sum.


After the case, Duncan said:

Fieldfisher did a great job in securing my settlement”.


Contact us

For further information or if you have a product liability claim please call Paul McNeil on 020 7861 4019 or email paul.mcneil@fieldfisher.com.

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