Electrical fires result from faulty electrical wiring or a failure to maintain electrical wiring. Some electrical fires are associated with problems in house wiring or appliance failure. However, many occur because the homeowner overloads electrical outlets, or extension cords. Electrical fires begin in electrical panels from overloaded circuits, or the age of the panel. Overloading occurs when the electricity distribution is inadequate. An example of this would be an electrical fire occurring on the inside of a homeowner’s walls, due to improperly insulated wires.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the five most common examples of electrical fires and how to reduce their likelihood are:
- Faulty Outlets or Appliances: In order to avoid electrical fires that are caused by faulty electrical outlets, or old and outdated appliances, you should never use an appliance with a worn or frayed cord. Another very common example is when someone runs a cord under a rug or other fabric;
- Light Fixtures: This most commonly occurs when a bulb with the incorrect wattage for that specific light fixture is installed. Additionally, fires could begin when flammable materials are placed over a lampshade;
- Misuse of Extension Cords: Appliances should be directly plugged into an electrical outlet and not plugged into an extension cord. It is important to note that extension cords should be temporary measures and not utilized for long term use;
- Misuse of Space Heaters: An electrical fire is more likely to occur when a space heater is placed too close to combustible surfaces. An especially dangerous example would be coil heaters, due to the fact that the coils can become so heated that they nearly instantaneously ignite nearby flammable surfaces; and
- Outdated Electrical Wiring: For safety and fire prevention purposes, a building’s electrical wiring should be inspected and possibly replaced approximately every twenty years. This is because outdated breaker boxes generally have worn connectors which do not work, which causes the electrical system to overload and start an electrical fire.
Who Can I Sue For My Electrical Fire?
Depending on the circumstances, there may be many different parties that you can sue for an electrical fire. An example of this would be how if you bought a new appliance that spontaneously combusts even though it was properly installed into a working outlet, you may be able to sue the manufacturer. Additionally, you may be able to sue the seller of the appliance.
Another example would be if your space heater is placed too close to the curtains, which causes an electrical fire. You may be able to sue the space heater manufacturer if the space heater failed to have adequate warnings of risk for fire.
Product liability is what holds product manufacturers, retailers, and sellers liable for allowing any defective products to reach the consumer. All parties who are involved in the chain of distribution may be found guilty of product liability. While state laws governing product liability vary, there is a set of commercial statutes that most states have modeled their own laws after. This is known as the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”), and it contains warranty rules which affect product liability.
Failure to warn is one principle of product liability. When products fail to provide an adequate warning of the dangers that are associated with their use, this is known as a failure to warn. The warning labels that are found on the product itself, as well as the owner’s manual included with the product, must be clear and concise. Additionally, they must explain all of the possible dangers and risks that may be associated with the use of the product.
To reiterate, liability for a product defect such as a failure to warn could fall on any party who was involved in the product’s chain of distribution. This remains true even if the party found responsible was not the party that actually created the defect. A defendant may be found strictly liable if they were the party responsible for placing the defective product in the marketplace, and if the product was defective upon leaving the care of the defendant.
Some examples of the most common parties who could be held liable for a failure to warn claim include:
- The product’s manufacturer;
- A manufacturer of component parts;
- The product’s distributor;
- A retailer who sells the product;
- A product’s wholesaler; or
- Any party responsible for the installation or assembly of the product.
Failure to warn is a strict liability lawsuit. Strict liability is the legal theory that holds a party responsible for their actions or products, without the plaintiff needing to prove negligence or fault. Even if they took all necessary precautions and followed safety requirements, they may still be held strictly liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Because of this, if the defendant is able to foresee that a person could be harmed by the product due to the nature of the product, they will most likely be held responsible for the foreseeable damages.
You may also be able to sue the construction company if they improperly wired your electrical components in your home, which resulted in a house fire. If you are a renter, you may be able to sue the owner of the property. To reiterate, most fire injury claims are based on a negligence claim. What this means is that only parties who actually owe a duty of care to the plaintiff can be held liable for a fire injury.
The following are examples of parties that can generally be sued for causing or allowing an electrical fire:
- Safety inspectors;
- Work supervisors who are required to ensure the safety of employees;
- Product manufacturers or designers; or
- Home owners, but under limited circumstances.
Are There Any Legal Remedies Available For Electrical Fire Claims?
Legal remedies for an electrical fire accident lawsuit generally include a monetary damages award, which is intended to reimburse the injured person for their losses. Costs covered by a damages award most commonly include:
- Hospital expenses;
- Medical bills; and
- Other costs, such as lost wages.
Because electrical fire claims are generally attributed to negligence, the defendant must generally prove that some sort of harm occurred. The type of injury can vary but generally includes property damage, emotional stress, and/or lost wages.
There are a variety of defenses to negligence charges, the most obvious of which would be to dispute any of the components of negligence. Two related defenses are contributory and comparative negligence. Both defenses question whether the person who was injured is in some way responsible for the injury that they suffered.
Contributory negligence jurisdictions state that any negligence on the part of the injured person is a total bar to recovery. In a comparative negligence jurisdiction, the injured person can still recover a damages award, but the recovery is reduced by how negligent they themselves were. An example of this would be if they are found to be 20% responsible for the injury, their damages award would be reduced by 20%.
Assumption of Risk is a defense that states that the injured person knew that they were doing something inherently dangerous, and chose to do it anyway. When this defense is successful, the defending party will not have to pay for any damages.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Electrical Fire Accidents?
If you have experienced an electrical fire because of the negligence of someone else, you should immediately consult with a personal injury lawyer. A personal injury lawyer in your state can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific personal injury laws and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.