Implanted heart device explodes, causing fire that killed father, 3-year-old son: Lawsuit


Fatou Nguda Secka, the surviving spouse of Muhammedou Tarawally and the mother of Matarr Muhammedou, filed a wrongful death lawsuit involving her husband's implanted heart device that exploded and caused a fire. (Screenshot from Atlanta's ABC affiliate WSB-TV)

Fatou Nguda Secka, the surviving spouse of Muhammedou Tarawally and the mother of Matarr Muhammedou filed a wrongful-death lawsuit involving her husband’s implanted heart device that exploded and caused a fire. (Screenshot from Atlanta’s ABC affiliate WSB-TV)

The widow of a man has filed a lawsuit alleging a series of failures led to the deaths of her husband and 3-year-old son after a medical heart pump device implanted in her husband exploded, causing a fire in their apartment in Georgia last Christmas.

Fatou Nguda Secka, the surviving spouse of Muhammedou Tarawally and the mother of Matarr Muhammedou, filed her lawsuit alleging negligence against the makers of the heart device, its battery, the managers of the apartment complex and others involved at the location that had been under a 24-7 “fire watch” due to previous fires, “fire-protection deficiencies” and fire-code violations.

“I lose my life, it was my life,” Secka told Atlanta’s ABC affiliate WSB-TV, which broke the story.

The tragedy happened when a fire originating from a defective medical device — the HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist System (HM 3) — implanted in Tarawally in May 2022 to control the beating of his heart killed him and their young son, court documents said. Secka had been working at the Atlanta Airport when the fire broke out.

The medical device is supposed to alert the user to any alarm conditions by activating lights, symbols, sounds, and on-screen messages, the lawsuit said. It had an internal backup battery pack that is supposed to power the HM 3 pump for at least 15 minutes in case of a power loss, court documents said.

On the afternoon of Dec. 25, 2022, Tarawally’s HM 3 Device “catastrophically failed when its System Controller, due to a manufacturing defect in one of the
battery pack’s three battery cells internally shorted, overheated, and experienced a thermal runaway,” court documents said.

“As a result of the thermal runaway, the battery cells in the HM 3 System Controller combusted and/or exploded, and the HM 3 Device stopped pumping Mr. Tarawally’s heart, causing Mr. Tarawally’s death,” the lawsuit said.

Fire spread over his body, clothing, and the bed he was on.

No smoke detector or fire alarm sounded, no sprinklers activated, and no one from the apartment complex’s “fire watch” noticed the fire, the lawsuit said.

The fire watch system consisted of “someone on the grounds, walking the premises around the apartment building, up and down the stairwells, constantly checking,” the family’s attorney, Mike McGlamry, told WSB-TV.

A disabled neighbor in a wheelchair upstairs smelled and then saw smoke and called his nephew, who lived nearby, for help. Once there, the nephew pulled the fire alarm in an upstairs breezeway, alerting firefighters.

Once the blaze was put out, first responders discovered Tarawally’s badly burned body on his bed. His son was found at the foot of the bed. He died from smoke inhalation.

On Dec. 1, the family filed their wrongful death lawsuit, alleging product liability claims for strict liability and negligence against the companies responsible for making and selling the defective HM 3 device and its battery pack and backup batteries. The lawsuit also alleges negligence and premises liability against apartment complex management.

They allege management knew the day before the fatal fire that neither the sprinkler system nor its fire alarm system was functional in Building 16. Court documents also allege management had been ordered by the Clayton County Fire Department that day to place buildings 16 and 15 under a 24/7 fire watch.

The lawsuit alleges the company the complex hired to conduct the “fire watches” failed to comply with the standard of care to carry out its duties.

“This is a tragic situation and our heart goes out to the family. Our device has an extremely strong safety record, and there’s no history of the controller, battery or LVAD catching on fire,” Scott Stoffel, a spokesman for the device’s maker, Abbott Laboratories Inc., said, WSB-TV reported. “We believe the allegations are without merit.”

The makers of the battery packs — Panasonic Corporation of North America and Panasonic Energy Corporation of America — and the attorney for the apartment complex declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation, WSB-TV reported.


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