Ann Schwartz of Fullerton was looking forward to a quiet but special holiday, a traditional home-cooked meal and a renewal of family ties at a Thanksgiving gathering.
But when she took the 20-pound turkey from the oven, she said, the thin, disposable aluminum container collapsed. Hot grease spilled, inflicting severe burns on her legs and feet.
Schwartz spent three weeks in the hospital, underwent a skin graft and was confined to a wheelchair for several months after the accident in November, 1982. She now walks with a limp.
Alleging that the pan was poorly designed and built, Schwartz has sought more than $500,000 in damages from its manufacturer and distributor in a lawsuit that is scheduled for trial Monday in Orange County Superior Court.
Schwartz, 46, and her lawyer, James Di Cesare, allege that new, more extensive warnings on the label of the pans now on the market show that the product, as it was sold in 1982, was not safe.
But the defense attorney calls the case "just an unfortunate accident." Dennis Alevizon represents EZ Por Corp. and American Home Products Corp., the manufacturer and distributor, respectively, of the disposable pan widely marketed under the brand EZ Foil Roaster Rack 'N Roast.
'Just Spilled the Gravy'
"She just spilled the hot gravy on herself," Alevizon said.
According to documents filed in the case, Schwartz got up early Nov. 25, 1982, to take the turkey out of the oven, where it had been cooking overnight. Wearing elbow-length padded gloves, she eased the pan onto her left forearm, balancing it with her right hand.
"She is taking it out of the oven and is placing it on the stove top," Di Cesare said. "The pan fails and collapses."
According to the label on the container, the pan has capacity of 20 pounds and is made of "reusable super aluminum."
"Everything about it--reusable, super aluminum--leads one to believe that this a very sturdy and safe product," Di Cesare said, contending that the package warnings were inadequate.
The old label alerts buyers to provide support for the bottom of the pan and warns not to lift "by sides only." The current label emphasizes and expands those directions and suggests the use of a cookie sheet or cutting board under the pan, according to papers in the court file.
Alevizon points out that Schwartz did follow the directions to support the pan but tilted the pan as she lifted it, spilling the grease.
"She had one (arm) underneath, just like she was supposed to," Alevizon said. "She had it supported exactly the way it is supposed to be supported. Even if there should have been additional warnings, it wouldn't have made any difference because she was doing what she was supposed to do."
The pan itself did not buckle, Alevizon said.
Schwartz, who is married and has two children, claims medical bills of more than $15,000 for treatment of the second- and third-degree burns. She also claims the loss of "substantial" income from her job as a secretary while she recovered, Di Cesare said.
The trial, expected to take two weeks, is scheduled to start the first week in June.