According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments respond to a fire every 24 seconds. A fire at your home or business may result not in financial hardship, with an estimated $6.7 billion in direct damages each year. It can also result in emotional damages, personal injuries, or other property damage. In fact, fire damage ranks in the top five of the most costly and common insurance claims; fire damage is even costlier when a lawsuit is involved.
There are many different types of fire damage lawsuits, ranging anywhere from negligence to arson. Some of the most common fire damage claims include:
- Gas and explosion fires caused by gas line leaks, or gas lines being poorly installed, maintained, or repaired;
- Electrical fires resulting from faulty electrical wiring or maintenance;
- Furnace or water heater fire damage claims resulting from poor installation, maintenance, or a faulty repair;
- Chemical fire damages resulting from the use of chemicals or from improper chemical storage;
- Defective product fires, such as fire damage caused by defective cell phones, appliances, or power tools;
- Fire damage claims as a result of failing to provide proper working safety equipment, such as smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, fire alarms, fire escapes, fire extinguishers, etc.; or
- Other fire damage claims, such as kitchen fires, fires caused by tossed cigarettes or trash burning, campfires, or other forest wildfires.
Because there are so many different ways a fire can begin, there are often multiple responsible parties which may be held liable for the fire damage and losses.
Determining liability for fire damage is sometimes a difficult matter. For example, if a lightning strike causes a forest fire, then there may not be a party that can be held responsible. Most fire accidents are just that — accidents. However, every fire claim is unique, and even in unintentional fires, it is possible for anyone involved in the incident to become a potential defendant.
Defective products, negligence, and intentional acts are all common legal issues involved in fire injury and property damage cases. Parties which you may hold responsible for injuries or damages caused by a fire accident may include:
- The owner of a rental house or unit;
- The contractor of the property;
- The seller of any defective material used in the construction of the house; or
- Manufacturers of defective products.
In a defective product cases, the court may hold a manufacturer of phones liable if their products malfunction and caught a consumer’s home on fire or injure a consumer. Further, a court may find other manufacturers similarly liable, such as manufacturers of water heaters, heaters, or appliances, if their products are defective and caused damage to consumers or their homes.
In a negligence lawsuit, the court may find several defendants liable for damages as a result of a fire, such as an apartment building fire caused by faulty wiring. Defendants for such a situation may include both the company and the electrician that installed the faulty wiring, the seller or manufacturer of any defective wiring material, and even the owner of the apartment complex.
Apartment complex owners and rental home owners are often found liable by courts, for either failing to install or for installing defective smoke detectors and other required safety equipment in the rental unit. Each negligence case and lawsuit is unique, and will have numerous potential parties that may be held liable for causing or contributing to the fire.
Fire damage and accidents may also involve intentional acts, such as arson. A homeowner may hold an arsonist responsible for any property damage or damages relating to a personal injury for the fire they started. However, a homeowner that starts a fire in their own home in order to cash in on their insurance policy, may be held liable for both arson and insurance fraud, as well as other civil and criminal charges.
Lastly, insurance companies may also be held liable for fire damage and accidents. Insurance companies are required to timely pay out a properly filed insurance claim. Further, federal law requires that insurance companies owe policyholders an “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” If an insurance company breaches their duty by wrongfully denying a home fire insurance claim or otherwise delaying payment, the homeowner may recover actual damages, or even punitive damagesin some cases.
Generally, when a person or their property is injured by a fire, they typically seek compensatory damages. This can apply whether the case involves negligence or product liability issues.
In negligence cases, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a legal duty, breached that duty, and was the proximate cause of injuries or property damage, in order to recover damages. In product liability cases, the plaintiff must show that the defendant manufactured, distributed, sold, and/or installed the product, which caused harm to the plaintiff.
Compensatory damage awards aim to help a fire victim recover losses associated with the fire. Awards for compensatory damages vary by state, but typically include some or all of the following:
- Past, present, and future medical expenses;
- Past and future lost income;
- Past and future damages for pain and suffering;
- Loss of enjoyment of life;
- Property damage;
- Emotional distress; or
- An award based on any disability or disfigurement that was a result of the fire.
In addition to the above damages, if a person loses a family member in a fire, then their surviving spouse or family member may file a wrongful death lawsuit for damages against the parties responsible for the fire. You should check the laws of your state in order to determine what legal remedies are available to you.
As can be seen, fire damage and accident lawsuits are unique and may become very complex due to often involvement of numerous parties. Further, the laws regarding liability vary by state.
Therefore, if your property was harmed by a fire, or an insurance company is wrongfully withholding payment, you should immediately consult with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney in your area. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to help you determine if you have a case, file a lawsuit on your behalf, and represent you in court, if necessary.