- September 29, 2022
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Premises Liability
There’s a popular myth that landlords are never legally responsible for any damage caused by arson. Even people who have never heard this myth repeated will often assume that, if an individual criminal can be blamed for the fire, then the property owner can’t be.
This is not true.
The reason is fairly simple: landlords have a duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent people from being harmed by fire on their properties, and preventing fires from starting is only part of that task.
Most fire precautions become relevant after ignition has already occurred, for example:
- Equipping every bedroom with a working fire alarm
- Maintaining clear, well-lit exit routes
- Providing working fire extinguishers at regular intervals
- Ensuring the construction of the building itself is up to code
Such precautions can make the difference between a fire that’s limited to property damage versus a fire with burn injury victims or human casualties. This stage of fire protection is always the landlord’s responsibility, regardless of how a fire starts.
A Lafayette Woman Is Dead, After an Intentional Fire Spread to Her Apartment
Late in the evening of August 13th, 2022, emergency crews responded to a call about a fire at the Carriage Hill Apartments in Lafayette. Police evacuated the first two floors while firefighters ventured into the burning third floor units. They pulled an elderly man and a 19-year-old woman from the building, but unfortunately, the woman had already suffered fatal smoke inhalation injuries. Her name was Sierra Johnson.
While police were interviewing the displaced residents outside, one of them, a 29-year-old woman named Shennia Chambers, confessed to setting the fire deliberately in her own bedroom, which was adjacent to Johnson’s apartment.
Chambers has since been charged with first-degree arson and murder. While this might seem like a tidy resolution to the question of responsibility for the fire, it’s not. Chambers’ reckless decision to set fire to her apartment was only one of several possible forms of negligence contributing to Johnson’s death.
Families Affected by Arson Can Win Compensation While Fighting for Fire Safety
As tempting as it can be to fixate solely on the actions of an arsonist, this rarely helps with getting affected families back on their feet. And while criminally prosecuting the arsonist may prevent that one individual from setting more fires in the future, that’s a relatively small victory in the grand scheme of fire safety.
To get fair compensation for survivors, and prevent future deaths from apartment fires, it’s important to look to higher, to the companies that control fire safety procedures for multifamily homes. In the case of the Carriage Hill fire, that means examining the behavior of CAHEC Management, Inc.
Obviously, the ignition in this case was not CAHEC’s fault. There’s no electrical short or malfunctioning heater to go searching for. However, as the Lafayette Director of Public Safety noted on record, the fire spread very quickly from one unit to the next. That points to possible code violations in the fireproofing of the common walls.
The elderly man rescued from the building was also found in bed asleep, calling into question whether the building was correctly equipped with working fire alarms.
If CAHEC did indeed fail in its duties to make the Carriage Hill Apartments easily escapable in case of fire, then the company shares responsibility for Johnson’s death.
If you are Sierra Johnson’s next of kin, if you were injured in the Carriage Hill fire, or if you have also been harmed by an apartment fire in Georgia, reach out to The Stoddard Firm to learn more about your options.