New York Fire Injury Lawyer
For those who have been injured or lost a loved one in a fire, the aftermath can be physically, emotionally, and financially overwhelming. Proving injuries or wrongful deaths were due to fire code violations can be tricky and requires navigating the nuances of building codes and premises liability law.
Although no one can change the past, the experienced lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy can make sure you receive full compensation for your injuries. We can assist with gathering evidence, interviewing eyewitnesses, determining which part of the fire code was violated and which actions (or non-actions) on the part of the property owner constitute negligence.
Building Fires Can Lead to Serious Injuries or Death
Left unchecked, fires can quickly get out of hand and cause extensive damage to people and property. The NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) reports that there were 65,056 fires in New York State in 2018. Of these, 41,467 were building fires. Fires resulted in:
- 919 civilian fire injuries
- 1,585 fire service personnel fire injuries
- 102 civilian fire-related deaths
- 2 fire service personnel fire-related deaths
Injuries sustained during a fire may be particularly devastating. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that thermal burns account for only 24% of injuries in residential building fires. Smoke inhalation was an even greater source of injury, accounting for 41% of injuries. (A combination of thermal burns and smoke inhalation accounted for a further 13%.) Smoke inhalation damage may be difficult to detect and treat because the internal injuries to the lungs may not be visible immediately after exposure. However, symptoms often get worse in the hours and days after the incident.
Smoke inhalation is particularly damaging to children and the elderly. It can also exacerbate existing cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. In extreme cases, it can lead to arrhythmia, heart attack, and death.
When Are Property Owners Liable for Fire Injuries?
Property owners have an obligation to ensure the safety of those who enter their property. That includes taking reasonable precautions to prevent fire and adhering to the local fire code. If they are negligent, and someone is injured in a fire, they may be held liable.
For example, say the owner of an apartment building hires a carpenter to install cabinets and repair closets in several apartment units. However, some of the units contained damaged or exposed wires. The carpenter’s work involved using flammable chemicals. When a spark from the wiring ignited the chemicals, a fire began, and the carpenter suffered serious burns over much of his body.
In that case, the property owners’ negligence (ignoring the faulty wiring) was a direct cause of the fire and they would likely be held liable for damages.
However, property owners may still be held partially liable if their actions allow the blaze to spread or prevent people from safely exiting.
For example, say a fire in an apartment building started when a tenant was cooking dinner and dropped a towel onto the flame of the gas stove. The fire spread, and another tenant on a higher floor was severely injured. The fire alarms in the building were not functional and the door leading to the fire escape was rusted shut. Although the building owner did not directly cause the fire, they may be held liable since their negligence allowed the fire to spread and prevented the injured tenant from escaping.
Examples of negligence that may lead to injury or death from a fire include:
- Debris around heating units
- Unsanctioned open fires (such as rooftop firepits, outdoor grills in inappropriate spaces, etc.)
- Poor handling of flammable materials
- Faulty wiring or gas leaks
- Missing or broken smoke alarms
- Missing or inadequate sprinkler systems
- Inadequate signage where smoking is prohibited
- Blocked doors or escape routes
What Are Fire Codes and Why Are They Important?
A fire code is a set of building regulations adopted by a state or local government to prevent fires from starting and ensure occupants’ safety if a fire does occur. Both New York State and New York City have stringent and comprehensive fire codes. If it can be shown that the property was violating the fire code at the time of a fire, and someone was injured or killed as a result, the property owners may be liable for damages.
Most states in the U.S. base their regulations on the International Fire Code (IFC). (The exceptions are Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Florida, West Virginia, and Hawaii.) Both New York State and New York City base their fire codes on the IFC.
Fire codes include provisions for:
- When and where open flames are permitted
- Limitations on cooking equipment, fireplaces, smoking, and candle use
- Space requirements around a structure to enable fire department access
- The use and maintenance of fire alarms, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, and other fire control devices
- Proper storage and handling of combustible materials
- Functional and accessible means of exit
- Fire safety during building construction and demolition
These laws are often updated after deadly fires in order to prevent similar accidents in the future. One famous example is the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire on March 25, 1911 in which 146 workers (mostly immigrant women in their teens and twenties) died. The building had no sprinkler system, and the water buckets that were intended to control fires were empty. The building exits were locked in order to prevent workers from leaving the building during the workday.
Many women jumped to their death to escape the flames. The tragedy shocked the public, and led to new legislation which established the New York City Fire Prevention Bureau and expanded the powers of the fire commissioner.
You Need an Experienced Fire Injury Lawyer on Your Side
Property owners often have experienced legal teams on their side. You deserve no less. Our attorneys have successfully fought for millions of dollars in compensation for victims of fire injuries. Past awards and settlements include:
$1,650,000 settlement for a widow after her husband died in an apartment fire.
Our attorneys negotiated a $1.65 million settlement for a 66-year-old widow after her 67-year-old husband died in an apartment fire in their building. The fire began when a tenant on a lower floor fell asleep smoking a cigarette.
The man had woken up to the smell of smoke and urged his wife to get onto the fire escape. He then entered the hallway and banged on the doors of his neighbors to alert them of the danger. He was quickly overwhelmed by the smoke and had no pulse when emergency workers responded.
A shaft and vent in the room where the fire began was not properly connected and fireproofed, and allowed the fire to spread rapidly before the fire department could contain it.
$1,650,000 settlement for a widow after the wrongful death of her husband.
Partner Stephen J. Murphy negotiated a $1.65 million settlement for a 71-year-old widow after her 73-year-old husband died in a building fire. A pipe which violated the building code facilitated the spread of the deadly fire.