According to the National Fire Protection Association, fires in homes and businesses cause an estimated $6.7 billion in direct damage yearly. The toll of harm includes injury to people, damage and destruction of property, and emotional distress. Fire damage is among the top five most costly and common insurance claims. Of course, it can become even more costly if a lawsuit results.
Several types of fire damage lawsuits are possible, ranging from claims for negligence to arson. Some of the most common causes of damaging fires include:
- Gas and Explosion Fires: Gas line leaks or the faulty installation, maintenance, and repair of gas lines can lead to explosions and fires;
- Electrical Fires: These can result from faulty installation of electrical wiring or a failure to maintain it;
- Furnace or Water Heater Fires: Again, fire can result from defective products, faulty installation, lack of maintenance, or faulty repair;
- Chemical Fire Damages: Improper chemical storage or improper use of chemicals can cause chemical fires;
- Defective Product Fires: Defective products such as cell phones, appliances, and power tools can even cause damaging fires;
- Defective Fire Safety Equipment: Some fire damage claims can result from a failure to equip a structure with properly working fire safety equipment, such as smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, fire alarms, fire escapes, fire extinguishers, etc.;
- Fires from Other Miscellaneous Causes: These include kitchen fires from cooking accidents, fires caused by cigarettes or trash burning, campfires, or even forest wildfires.
Because there are so many different ways a fire can begin, different people or entities may be held liable for the damage and losses caused by a fire.
Who May Be Held Responsible for Damages Caused by a Fire Accident?
Determining who might be liable for fire damage can be challenging. Of course, most fires happen accidentally. Each fire claim is unique, however, and even in unintentional fires, it is possible for anyone involved in the incident potentially to become a defendant.
Defective products, negligence, and intentional acts are all legal issues that might be involved in fire injury and property damage cases. Among the people or entities who might be legally answerable for injuries or damages caused by a fire accident may include:
- Owners of Rental Property: The landlord of residential or commercial rental properties;
- Building Contractors and Subcontractors: The contractor who builds or repairs a structure or the subcontractor who provides electrical contracting services;
- Suppliers of Materials: The seller of any defective material used in the construction of a building;
- Manufacturers and Retailers: Manufacturers and retailers of defective products in the structure, such as kitchen appliances;
- Appliance Installers: Contractors who install appliances such as furnaces and water heaters. Retailers who supply contractors for appliance installation might also be liable;
- Property Managers: Many landlords with large holdings hire professional property managers to manage their rentals. They are yet another entity that could be liable under certain circumstances for damage from a fire.
In a strict product liability case, a manufacturer of phones and even computers could potentially be liable if their product malfunctions and causes a fire in a consumer’s home with resulting injury and damage.
In a negligence lawsuit, the court could find several people or entities liable for damages resulting from a fire, such as an apartment building fire caused by faulty wiring. Of course, who is liable depends on whose negligence led to the fire. But those responsible in such a situation may include both the electrician who installed the faulty wiring and the company that employed them. Also, the seller or manufacturer of any defective wiring material and even the apartment complex owner might be legally liable for negligence.
Apartment complex owners and rental homeowners are sometimes found liable by courts for either failing to install legally required smoke detectors and fire alarms or for installing defective devices, as well as other safety equipment that might be required for housing units by local ordinances. Each negligence case and lawsuit is unique, and will have numerous potential parties who may be held liable for causing or contributing to a fire.
Fire damage may also involve intentional acts, such as arson. A homeowner might be able to hold an arsonist responsible for any property damage or damages relating to a personal injury for the fire they started. But collecting damages from a criminal arsonist would be challenging, as it would require identifying the arsonist and then finding that the arsonist has assets or insurance coverage to compensate for the damage they caused. All of these events are unlikely.
A homeowner who starts a fire in their own home to cash in on their insurance policy runs the risk of being charged with criminal arson, insurance fraud, and other related criminal charges.
Finally, a homeowner or business owner may turn to their fire insurance policy for compensation for fire damage and accidents. Insurance companies must promptly pay a legitimate claim for an event covered by an insurance policy. Further, the law implies an “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” owed by the insurance company to its policyholders in every insurance policy.
If an insurance company breaches its duty by wrongfully denying a legitimate fire insurance claim for a covered event or otherwise delays payment, the homeowner may recover actual damages, or even punitive damages in some cases, for insurance bad faith.
What Legal Remedies Are Available for Fire Damage Claims?
Generally, when a person is injured or their property damaged by a fire, they typically seek compensatory damages. This can apply whether the case involves negligence or strict product liability for a defective product.
In negligence cases, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a legal duty, breached that duty, and was the direct or proximate cause of injuries or property damage to recover damages. In product liability cases, the person who has suffered injury or damage must show that another person or company manufactured, distributed, sold, or installed the product which caused the harm to the person.
The goal of an award of compensatory damages in a lawsuit is to help a fire victim recover compensation for losses associated with the fire. Awards for compensatory damages may vary from state to state because each state has its own laws regarding the losses compensated in a negligence case. Still, most states include some or all of the following if they are shown by evidence:
- Medical Expenses: Past, present, and future medical expenses, including charges for hospital and doctor care, medication, and more;
- Loss of Income and Earning Ability: Past and future lost income and loss of earning ability;
- Pain and Suffering: Damages for both past, present, and future pain and suffering;
- Property damage;
- Emotional distress;
- Compensation for Disability and Disfigurement: A sum for any disability or disfigurement that resulted from the fire.
In addition to the above damages, if a person loses a family member in a fire, their surviving spouse or family member may file a wrongful death lawsuit for damages against the parties responsible for the fire. An experienced personal injury lawyer would be able to provide complete information on what legal remedies are available and their value in a given case and in a given state.
Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with a Fire Damage or Accident Lawsuit?
As can be seen, fire damage and accident lawsuits are unique and may become very complex due to the possible involvement of numerous parties. Further, the laws regarding liability vary by state. Furthermore, a person may have to rely on an expert to determine the cause of a fire and provide evidence on that subject.
Therefore, if a fire harmed your property or an insurance company is wrongfully withholding payment on a claim for fire injury or damage, you should immediately consult 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.