Fire Injuries: the Third Leading Fatal Home Injury

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fires are the third leading cause of fatal home injuries. Every day sees an average of 435 children treated for fire injuries. Two of them will die. Most victims die from inhaling smoke and toxic gases, not from burn injuries. Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related death and cooking is the most common cause of residential fire. Statisticians can break down the cost of injuries, demographics (children four and under are most at risk of fire injury or death), ethnicity, economics, and social factors.

We also know that most home fires happen during the winter months, alcohol is often a contributing factor, and over one-third of home fire deaths happen in structures without working smoke alarms; one-quarter resulted from fires in homes in which smoke alarms were present but not operational. While there are numbers regarding losses and cost there are none to describe the pain and suffering of a family that loses a child, or a victim who survives but suffers serious burn injuries.

Completely preventable tragic accidents

The steps property owners and families can take to prevent home fires and related injuries and deaths are simple and inexpensive. Take the time to do the following and protect your family:

  • Install smoke alarms in or near every sleeping area and on every level. Check batteries monthly.
  • Discuss fire with your family members. Have an escape plan, with two exits from every room in the house. This might require investing in hanging ladders for second-story bedrooms. Have a meeting place outside of the house. Be sure everyone understands the importance of getting out without stopping for pets or personal belongings.
  • Discuss safe cooking practices, including never setting flammable materials on the stove.
  • Have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and make sure everyone knows how to use it.
  • Enforce a no-smoking-in-bedrooms rule.
  • Be clear that matches and lighters are not toys.

Fire injuries resulting from tenants’ or landlords’ negligence

Owners of rental property, including multi-family units, college dorms, and apartment buildings, are responsible for providing fire exits and smoke alarms. Specific requirements for inspections and permits vary by community and state. A landlord who fails to provide and maintain smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, or exits may be liable for damages to tenants injured as a result. A personal injury lawyer who takes on a fire injury or wrongful death claim should have resources available to conduct a thorough investigation. If a defective smoke alarms or other poorly designed equipment was to blame, the manufacturer may be liable. A landlord who failed to provide a safe building can be sued. In both those situations, insurance companies for the defendants will handle the cases and either agree to settlements or go to court.

Tenants are themselves responsible for taking reasonable precautions to prevent fires. A tenant who causes property damage, injury, or death through dangerous cooking or smoking practices, disabling smoke alarms, or blocking exits can be sued or charged with negligent homicide. If a tenant charge with a crime cannot afford a criminal defense lawyer, the state will provide a public defender. Again, the outcome of a civil or criminal case will depend heavily on the quality of the defense investigation.

When someone suffers injury or loss in a fire

It is important, if a person is injured or suffers another loss in a house or apartment fire, that a thorough investigation be conducted immediately, before evidence degrades or disappears, and witness memories become unreliable. It is common practice for personal injury law firms to offer free initial consultations and, if a firm takes a case, to arrange for that investigation. Therefore, person who has been injured, suffered loss of property, or lost a loved one to fire, should contact a firm as soon as possible afterwards.

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