General Negligence/Injuries Stemming from a Fire

The following case involves negligence stemming from a fire.

In July 2010, a local college student invited a classmate over for dinner. Alcohol was consumed and both students admitted to being intoxicated. During the night, a fire started in the main portion of the apartment.

The 19 year old female plaintiff woke to thick plumes of smoke, making it impossible for her to see. She ran into the kitchen by accident and was trapped. As the fire began to engulf her, a firefighter rescued her.  The 20 year old male plaintiff, trapped in the bedroom, caught on fire and jumped out the second floor window.  Both plaintiffs were transported to a local burn unit.

Investigation into the fire revealed that a power strip, which had been chewed by the female tenant’s pet chinchilla, most likely caused the couch to smolder until it ignited, setting off the blaze.

Research by Plaintiffs’ counsel revealed a fatality occurred in the same building 10 years before due to a fire. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued that because the property required extensive renovations following that fire, the landlord should have installed a sprinkler system in the building. Plaintiff’s unit was neither equipped with a sprinkler nor adequate smoke detectors.  Specifically, the unit had ionization detectors and the building code dictates that smoke detectors within twenty feet of a kitchen or bathroom must be photoelectric.

The defense argued that the female tenant had disabled the smoke detector on numerous occasions and that she was aware her pet had been chewing the power strip yet did nothing about it. The defense further argued that the plaintiffs were so inebriated that had a smoke detector gone off, it would not likely have had any beneficial effect. Defense would not concede that any code violation existed at the time of the accident.

Lastly, for the plaintiffs’ position to succeed, the accident locus would have to qualify as a “building” under the law.  Defense argued that it did not meet the definition of a “building”.  The plaintiffs’ argued that the building was an investment for its owners and did not enjoy the exclusion that residences receive concerning the need for specific smoke detectors and/or the installation of sprinkler systems.

The case was mediated and settled for $650,000.00.