- February 28, 2022
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Premises Liability
It’s always encouraging to hear about people helping each other in times of crisis. Human courage and compassion are wonderful things, and it is most certainly not the purpose of this post to argue that people should stop acting on them.
What so often gets lost, however, while we’re cheering for the heroes of a disaster, is objective scrutiny of the disaster itself.
Obviously, when a fire is actively burning, it’s not a good time to worry about what caused it or whose fault it is. The instinct to focus on getting people out of harm’s way and leave the rest for later is correct. Too often though, there’s no real follow-up when “later” arrives.
When fire safety is done right, fires are rare and quickly contained, or at worst, people have plenty of time and room to escape from them.
Each time an ordinary person is forced to become an impromptu hero of an apartment fire, there’s a good chance it’s because someone at the building’s property management company — someone with much less concern for the wellbeing of their fellow humans — decided not to bother with fire safety. Ignoring this part of the story allows similar fires to keep happening, putting more people in danger.
Details of the Orchard Walk Apartments Fire Hint at Serious Underlying Problems
Case in point, the Orchard Walk Apartments in Decatur experienced a fire in early February. Three residents were hospitalized, a dog was killed, a firefighter suffered minor injuries, and eight apartments were rendered uninhabitable.
Survivors have described running outside with nothing, jumping off of balconies, throwing objects through each other’s windows to draw attention to the emergency, and catching each other’s children as they were lowered from the upper floor.
The residents’ courage and cooperation no doubt saved many lives, but they beg the question of why they were necessary in the first place. Why was the fire able to spread so quickly? Why were normal routes of escape not an option? Most tellingly, why did the neighbors need to go to such lengths to warn each other, when an automated smoke detector could have performed that task?
Landlords Are Responsible for Providing Many Layers of Fire Safety
One Orchard Walk resident has reported that he believes the fire started with his roommate’s unattended candle. That might sound like it exonerates the property management company from liability, but it really doesn’t.
This fire may not have started with a faulty landlord-provided appliance, a cheap space heater brought in to compensate for inadequate built-in heating, or any of the other common ignition sources that are obviously a landlord’s fault. However, a landlord’s responsibility for fire safety goes beyond just preventing ignition.
Just a few of the legal fire safety requirements apartment landlords must meet include:
- Regularly spaced fire extinguishers.
- Clear, well-lit escape paths.
- Working smoke detectors in every bedroom.
- Walls and doors that meet the minimum fire resistance standards under the Georgia Fire Code.
No matter how a fire starts, a landlord is responsible for providing these safety measures to limit the harm the fire can cause. A landlord who fails to meet these standards can be held liable for all the resulting preventable harm.
If you are one of the people injured in the Orchard Walk Apartments fire, or if you have otherwise been injured or lost a loved one to an apartment building fire in Georgia, reach out to the Stoddard Firm to learn more.