GEORGETOWN — The widow of a man who died in a house fire in February has filed a lawsuit claiming that the cause of the blaze was a defective space heater.
The suit was filed Tuesday in Scott Circuit Court on behalf of Sheila Wells, the widow and executor of the estate of Charles B. Wells, a longtime labor leader and Democratic Party activist.
Charles Wells, 52, died of smoke inhalation in a Feb. 21 house fire. Kentucky State Police said the fire was caused by an electric space heater placed too close to combustible materials.
The lawsuit says that Sheila Wells and her husband "were not misusing the Comfort Zone portable space heater at any time" and that "Charles Wells used the space heater in the manner for which it was supplied."
In addition, the suit says "the space heater was defective, resulting in this house fire."
The suit does not specify how the heater was defective.
The complaint names as defendants Howard Berger Co., a distributor of the heater, and the Big Lots store in Frankfort, where Charles Wells bought the heater.
Corporate headquarters for the companies had no immediate comment Wednesday.
Among the damages sought are funeral and burial expenses; the loss of earning capacity of Charles Wells; "past, present and future physical and mental anguish to Sheila Wells"; and punitive damages.
Sets of written questions filed with the suit ask Howard Berger Co. and Big Lots whether the space heater was ever the subject of a recall or any litigation or threatened litigation. The interrogatories also ask whether the heater was the subject of any safety, design or durability concerns, and whether the product had been the subject of any complaints to or recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That federal agency has issued safety tips about the use of portable space heaters.
In 2008, Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Wells as a special assistant in the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet, where he was a liaison between the state and the labor groups representing its employees. Wells held that post until his death.
Before that, Wells worked in Frankfort as the longtime director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees and the American Federation of Teachers — Kentucky. He sat on the Kentucky Democratic Party's Central Executive Committee and chaired its Finance Committee.