Midtown Park Apartments May Be Liable for the Deaths of Two Residents in an Out-of-Control Fire

Two men are dead following a fire that engulfed most of Midtown Park Apartments in Columbus on July 31st, just before midnight. The two victims, Donald Lechowicz and Herman McCikens, ages 42 and 65 respectively, were immediate neighbors living in adjoining apartments.

Of the building’s 31 units, the fire affected all but one, displacing a further 27 residents and, of course, destroying valuable and priceless personal property. No other tenants were physically hurt, but two firefighters sustained injuries while fighting the blaze. One couple reports that they have been unable to locate their cat, and that other pets have already been found dead in the wreckage.

The ignition source has not yet been identified, but an investigation is ongoing.

Too Often, the Blame for Fire Losses Is Deflected onto Residents

Multiple organizations have mobilized to raise funds for the survivors, including the Red Cross, a local church, and WTVM, a news station that has been closely following the situation as it develops.

However, amid the outpouring of support and sympathy, the attitude persists that this kind of tragedy is unavoidable, or worse, the sole responsibility of residents prevent or prepare for. WTVM, for example, chose to refer to the fire as “a reminder to get renter’s insurance,” rather than, perhaps, “a reminder for landlords to check and update their buildings’ fire safety compliance.”

Property management companies typically encourage this line of thinking, because it diverts unwanted attention away from themselves.

As usual, the reminder of a landlord’s duties in this case may have to be delivered in court.

Landlords Have a Responsibility to Protect Residents from Fire Risks

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) warns of five primary causes of residential structure fires:

  • Cooking accidents
  • Heating malfunctions
  • Electrical malfunctions
  • Smoking accidents
  • Candle accidents

Two out of three of these risks are entirely under the landlord’s control. When accessing a building’s electrical or heating systems, a tenant has no option but to hope and trust that the hardware has been properly installed and maintained. It’s also possible for landlord-provided cooking equipment to be dangerously faulty.

Even when the cause of ignition is an error on a tenant’s part, such as dropping a candle or cigarette, or throwing water on a stovetop grease fire, a landlord is still responsible for a range of precautions intended to minimize the damage and danger once a fire begins.

Well-serviced and accessible fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, emergency lighting, clear exit routes, and fire-retardant building materials can make the difference between damage to a single unit and multiple fatalities throughout the building.

Though the exact circumstances of the Midtown Park fire are not yet understood, the owners of the building had a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to address predictable hazards. If the damage was caused or worsened by a failure to do this, then the owners are liable for that damage, potentially including the wrongful deaths of Mr. Lechowicz and Mr. McCikens. If the issue was faulty equipment, such as a space heater or stove, the manufacturer or installer may also share liability.

If you or someone you love have fallen victim to poor fire safety in an apartment complex, The Stoddard Firm can help.

Attorney Matt Stoddard

Atlanta Personal Injury LawyerMatt Stoddard is a professional, hardworking, ethical advocate. He routinely faces some of the nation’s largest companies and some of the world’s largest insurers – opponents who have virtually unlimited resources. In these circumstances, Mr. Stoddard is comfortable. Mr. Stoddard provides his strongest efforts to his clients, and he devotes the firm’s significant financial resources to presenting the strongest case possible on their behalf. Matt understands that his clients must put their trust in him. That trust creates an obligation for Matt to work tirelessly on their behalf, and Matt Stoddard does not take that obligation lightly. [ Attorney Bio ]

Landlords Are Responsible for Preventing Fire Deaths, Even in Case of Arson

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 ...