A quick Google search for "danger of heated seats" reveals any number of news stories about burn risks and the potential for damage to the, um, potency, of men. For most of us, though, we know when a heated seat gets too hot. 26-year-old Emma Verrill doesn't have that luxury.

Verrill has been a paraplegic since the age of 15, when spinal surgery to correct her scoliosis went wrong. She has touch sensation in her lower extremities, but she's unable to sense temperature, a major problem after a ride in a friend's 2008 Chevrolet Suburban from New York City to the Connecticut coast. Unbeknownst to her, the heated seats were on, and were generating temperatures so extreme she was unaware of the third-degree burns she was suffering. Verrill didn't discover the burns until the following day.

Following a skin graft to repair the damage, Verrill spent three months on her stomach, under the care of her parents at the family's home.

"I couldn't do anything for myself," Verrill told the Portland Press Herald. "I was literally in bed on my stomach. It's not like I was just homebound."

Since then, a suit was filed against General Motors on Verrill's behalf, alleging that the embattled automaker failed to adequately test seat heaters, thereby allowing them to reach "dangerously high temperatures that would burn human flesh," the New York Daily News reports.

According to the Press Herald, GM has denied the claims that the Suburban's seat heater caused Verrill's injury, while also claiming it was unaware of any defect in the heaters. US Magistrate Judge John Rich III has ordered both sides to be ready for trial by May 4, 2015.

Scroll down and take a look at the news report from the Press Herald.



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  • 65 Comments
      DMW2315
      • 6 Months Ago

      Not too familiar with GM vehicles but the seat heaters don't turn off after X-amount of time has passed?  In my car if I leave it at the hottest setting, it will gradually decrease to medium and finally to low and then off.  Not sure who is at fault but I feel bad for both GM (for their recent barrage of recalls) and the girl for suffering her burns. 

      TheFoeYouKnow
      • 6 Months Ago
      I work on seat heaters as part of my job (for another brand), and I'll tell you, I've seen some spectacular scorch-marks when I've pulled off the seat cover.  When I worked on Jeeps, I even saw a couple burn all the way through the leather.  The seat covers are usually lined in a fire retardant material, but sometimes the heater pad and foam cushion are melted down to foam pudding.  Glad I've never been sitting on one when an element burned open.  Not something you have to worry about if your seats are heated AND cooled, as those use a different technology, but mat-type heated seats can certainly be dangerous under the right conditions.
      Jarda
      • 6 Months Ago
      Am I missing something? Danielus, Travis, u ppl act like she is suing a cooker manufacturer after sitting on a cooker for hours. Is it normal to equip cars with seat heating capable of delivering 3rd degree burns? If I was in her skin I wouldn't expect that to happen either.
      Ozric
      • 6 Months Ago *Edited*

      I have read many of the comments about this girl and her situation and I believe Frank Zappa was correct when he stated that Hydrogen is not the most abundant element in the universe, Stupidity is !

      Why should this girl or anybody else have to ever think about the dangers of heated seats.  Heated seats should never get hot enough to harm anybody no matter how long they sit on them.  The fact that she received third degree burns is showing that something went wrong with the seat.  For GM to say they have never heard of such a complaint is a bold face lie.  Ask GM to open their warranty data and show that a heated seat has never failed, I would bet they have plenty of data showing that it has happened.  I worked at a GM Assembly plant for many years and have seen failures first hand, pinched wires, defective heating elements and such, they will burn  right through the leather.  Since building cars that can never have a defect is not possible, what GM needs to do is design a temp sensor in the seat so that if a malfunction does occur and the heat gets hotter than a pre-defined temperature, it will shut off completely and alert the driver that there is an issue that needs to be serviced.  Since this girl has third degree burns, GM obviously has nothing in place to prevent such an issue.

      For people to say she should have anticipated that this could be an issue or compare it to sticking your hand in crock pot is just Stupid !

      Nobody should have to think there is a possibility  that a heated seat could burn them under any circumstances.  Getting burned by heated seats should not be one of the risks associated with driving or riding in a car.

      As for this happening two or so years ago, has anybody here tried getting GM to admit fault in a case ?  It could be very well that they tried to deal with GM on this issue and were stonewalled.  Up until just a few months ago, GM and their legal teams have shown what it has been like to get GM to take responsibility for their problems.  It could be that the lawsuit was the only alternative the girl had, just ask some of the ignition switch victims families how well trying to get GM to take responsibility was for them.  It did not work well for them at all, many were even threatened by GM.  Why is this situation any more surprising ?

      b.rn
      • 6 Months Ago

      Let's all jump to conclusions based on a fraction of the whole story.  Isn't that what comment sections are for?

      yonomo200
      • 6 Months Ago *Edited*

      There are warnings on heating pads because they can and do deliver serious burns if used improperly. In the case of a seat heater, there is NO way it should be able to generate such temperatures. If they do, it's a defect, plain and simple. If in fact this seat burned her like this, GM should be at fault as an agent of their supplier who made the seat. 


      I would have a hard time understanding how any normally able bodied person could receive THIRD DEGREE burns without realizing it until the following day. But in her case, she has little sensation due to her condition and regardless, there is no way the seat should be able to do this.

      cpwallen
      • 6 Months Ago
      If the friend who gave her the ride didn't have the sense to turn off the seat heaters when they knew she couldn't discern temperature, I don't see how the misuse of a heater would in any way be GM's fault.  It would be like saying the person couldn't put on the brake if they didn't have use of their legs!
      ReTired
      • 6 Months Ago

      First: Ms. Liebeck's suit was for $20k (~ her medical expenses & lost income)...Mac's offered $800.00. The judgement amount was designated by a jury !..The jury-awarded damages included $160,000[3] to cover medical expenses and compensatory damages and $2.7 million in punitive damages

      ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebeck_v._McDonald%27s_Restaurants )    As to Ms. Verrill's case, it was NOT her vehicle...she had no reason to know it had heated seats or anything about their operation or danger.  IF they were operating correctly (as I guess the other seats were?), this would NOT have occurred (GM's responsibility for defective product GM can go after the supplier THEY contracted for the seat/heater).  The amount asked may seem high, but Ms. Verrill faces a long life yet with potential long-term & ongoing problems (medical & otherwise) resultant from this incident.  Her attorney could be "greedy" or provident...low-balling the amount (as in Liebeck's suit) doesn't result in an equitable settlement offer...and the lawyer stands for better contingency gain, as well.  I'm sort-of a car guy, so a lighted switch (IF there was one, and I could see it - within normal vision) I'd wonder & check...less technically aware, not so much..."pretty lights !" - not derogatory, just a matter of "interest"...if one cannot see the light easily, is unaware of it's function many of you still would hold them accountable.  Maybe you should read the owners' manual of any car you ride in...and "breath-test" the driver...before moving...so you won't have to file a "frivolous" lawsuit, and be subjected to ignorant comments on Blogs.

        Dan
        • 6 Months Ago
        @ReTired

        I'm not blaming this young lady, but I take exception with "she had no reason to know it had heated seats or anything about their operation or danger." She's 26, she's old enough to know it's something she needs to be careful about and seek information about. I have fatal nut allergies: someone left a pumpkin roll on a counter at work, and it smelled great...but I know I have to seek out whoever brought it in and ask if it has nuts in it, because ultimately, I'm responsible. Unlike ingredients like almond flour (thanks), they don't hide seat warmer controls. She needs to check for heated seats and make sure they're turned off.

        Now, why the seat was hot enough to make rump roast, that's a different story.

      kingrat001
      • 6 Months Ago

      When you don't feel heat, you can burn yourself at low enough heat that a normal person wouldn't have any problem at. Like with bedsores, people with normal movement don't get them because we move around constantly without really knowing it, and the same movement will prevent this from happening. Unless the heaters were shorted out, I don't see much of a case here. A paraplegic friend of mine really messed himself up when he spilled hot spaghetti sauce down his shoe, and then waited to feed his dog and change his water before he took his shoe off and wash it off. Off to the burn unit he went, for I don't remember how many weeks. At least he couldn't feel it. He basically cooked his right foot. When I saw it, I couldn't believe how badly it was burned. He almost lost his foot. It was his stupidity, not the stove's or the sauces.

      carguy1701
      • 6 Months Ago

      Older VWs with the 5-6 stage seat heaters would get pretty toast right quick if you went for the highest setting (and they still do, even with the reduction to 3 stages).  I've been in a few GM cars with seat heaters, never felt them get anywhere close to being too hot.

      This will be settled out of court.

      dfkd
      • 6 Months Ago *Edited*

      At risk of seeming insensitive, isn't it a part of normal life as a paraplegic to pay attention to the parts of your body that you know aren't able to give you danger warning signals?

      She says herself, 30 seconds into the interview video that, "anyone with spinal damage has to be very careful of..." and lists a bunch of stuff.
      Checking for heat isn't on that list? Hands never touched the seat once in 2 hours? Backrest wasn't hot too?

      I call BS. Easy looking opportunity to cash in.

        TheFoeYouKnow
        • 6 Months Ago
        @dfkd

        A Suburban has a seat heater switch that stays on mechanically.  In addition, it's switch is capable of being switched to back, bottom or both.  It's possible that only the lower heater was on.  If it was left on by the previous occupant, or bumped when someone entered or exited the vehicle (the switch is on the door, btw), it could have been on without anybody having a reason to notice or think about.

          Alfonso T. Alvarez
          • 6 Months Ago
          @TheFoeYouKnow
          The seat heater switch is a momentary contact device (NOT a switch that stays on 'mechanically'), no idea where you got this idea, maybe back in the sixties??? - hence, no matter what someone else had the heater set at when they were riding in it, the heater would NOT be on when someone else rode in the  vehicle after it had been shut off!!

          So, the rest of your hypothesis about someone 'hitting' the switch when getting in the car wouldn't do squat unless the vehicle was  already on!!

          Plus, they say she was riding in the back seat!!

          Her 'friend' who was driving the car was who was at fault here!!
        Mike Kilpatrick
        • 6 Months Ago
        @dfkd

        Asswipes  like you who are just so sure how other people should have reacted in situations they them selves will never face make me I'll. 

        Rj
        • 6 Months Ago
        @dfkd

        Agreed, was she sitting on the seat naked? Or did the heaters burn through her clothes first?

          Jarda
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Rj
          Usually what is non-flammable (which is a desired property when it comes to clothing) tends to lead heat very well. I.e. you can feel the heat through such fabric but the cloth is far from getting damaged by that heat.
      mapoftazifosho
      • 6 Months Ago

      Here is what I don't get. These heated seats don't STAY on. When you shut the vehicle off they should turn off or reset. So that means this girl or the driver turned them on once this passenger was seated. The controls are also mounted high and do light up...

        Ben Rabidou
        • 6 Months Ago
        @mapoftazifosho

        Not sure about how the Suburban works but my friends Nissan Pathfinder has a switch (stock heated seats) so they turn on/off with the car.

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