Salem burn victim settles suit for $5.375M

Lillis Larson
Retired teacher Lillis Larson was burned when a fellow volunteer was refilling an Ecoflame can being used to keep food warm. (KOIN 6 News)

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) – A Salem woman burned by a warming gel while volunteering at a church food booth almost four years ago has reached a $5.375 million settlement with the Canadian manufacturer.

According to a news release from her attorneys Monday, retired teacher Lillis Larson was burned when a fellow volunteer was refilling an Ecoflame can being used to keep food warm. This happened at the Salem Art Fair and Festival in July 2009.

Ecoflame warming gel
FILE – Ecoflame warming gel (KOIN 6 News)

Even with a $5.375 million settlement reached Monday, Larson said there’s no way to make the pain go away.

“I feel as though I’ve lost a year or two of my life,” Larson told KOIN 6 News.

The gel from the food warmer landed on Lillis Larson’s upper body, causing severe burns.

It burned like napalm, she recalled: colorless flames, resistant to water. The flames burned through her skin. It took retardant from a fire extinguisher to finally put the flames out.

Larson was airlifted to Legacy Emanuel’s burn center in Portland with second- and third-degree burns. She received four skin grafts. Four separate times she returned to Legacy to have scar tissue surgically cut and repaired.

“I was five weeks in the burn center,” Larson said. “I was home for weeks and weeks with home health care — I couldn’t drive for months and months because I was on such heavy pain medication.”

According to Larson’s attorneys, Ecoflame claimed its product was non-explosive, and was a viable alternative to the Sterno brand. The CEO of the company that makes Ecoflame Warming Gel admitted in a court deposition that the product could explode if exposed to an ignition source — even though the bottle said otherwise.

Lillis wants everyone to be aware.

“If people were aware that this product that said non-explosive was explosive, and that this product did not have any kind of a safety cap on it, it’s very dangerous.”

Ecoflame’s insurers are paying for a $2 million portion of the settlement, while the rest is coming from the church’s insurers. The trial was scheduled to begin Monday in Marion County Court.

This is believed to be the largest settlement against a gel-fuel manufacturer in history, attorneys said.

Lillis’ case settled Monday — on the same day trial was scheduled to start.

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