Having your home go up in flames is one of the most devastating experiences imaginable. People typically picture this scenario only befalling homeowners — a beautiful detached house crumbling to ash while a single family, rescued by firefighters, watches on in horror. However, this is only a small glimpse of the problem.
Apartment buildings are just as flammable as single-family homes, with even more sources of ignition. In fact, the U.S Fire Administration (USFA) reports that multi-family residential structure fires are responsible for 405 deaths annually, and leave an average of 3,975 people injured. If you add hotel and motel fires, these account for an additional 15 deaths and 150 injuries.
As well as being just as flammable, an apartment can be just as much a home to its residents as a house can. Paying rent versus paying a mortgage makes no difference to sense of safety and shelter that your home should provide, or the feelings of violation and hopelessness when that shelter is lost.
Even if you don’t lose more than a temporary roof over your head and a few replaceable possessions — as may be the case in a hotel fire — there are still likely to be injuries from the fire itself to contend with. Often, these injuries will require lengthy and costly recovery, making it seem impossible to get back on your feet.
At moments like these, having experts like those at The Stoddard Firm on your side can make all the different in rebuilding your life.
Common Causes of Apartment Fires
It’s sensible to wonder what you as a resident can do to protect yourself from fire. The bad news is that much of the power is out of your hands. The good news is that, if an incident has already occurred, the liability may be out of your hands too.
According to a 2010-2014 analysis by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), nearly 85% of all residential structure fires can be attributed to one of the top five causes:
- Cooking accidents
- Heating malfunctions
- Electrical malfunctions
- Arson or child fire-starters
- Smoking accidents
As a resident, you do have the power to control some risk factors, such as responsible cooking, smoking, and supervision of children. It’s important to note, however, that heating and electrical malfunctions together account for a quarter of all residential structure fires. These causes are directly related to the maintenance (or lack thereof) provided by the landlord.
A particular area of concern is the laundry room, where 4% of all home structure fires originate. In apartment buildings, these are typically located in common areas, where tenants have little control.
Whatever the original cause of the fire, 9% of multifamily residential structure fires end up spreading beyond their room of origin. This means that if your building does not have adequate fire extinguishers and other precautions in place to contain a fire once it starts, your neighbor’s cooking or smoking risks could become your own.
Apartment Complexes Have a Duty to Prevent Apartment Fires
While fire safety regulations vary somewhat from state to state and even city to city, all landlords are required to adhere to local regulations to ensure fire safety in their buildings. Standard requirements, derived from the International Fire Code, include:
- Installation and regular maintenance of fire extinguishers in major hallways
- Installation and regular maintenance of smoke alarms in every unit
- Maintaining clear, unobstructed exit routes
- Equipping all staircases with hand rails at a reasonable height
- Providing a generator or battery backup for emergency lighting and exit signs
The bottom line is that your landlord is responsible for providing safe living conditions to all tenants. If you suffer a preventable catastrophe as a result of owner negligence, it’s only reasonable to expect compensation and support getting back on your feet.
Common Injuries Suffered in Apartment Fires
Intuitively, the most common injuries sustained in structure fires are burns and smoke inhalation. Together, these account for 78% of all residential fire injuries.
Broken bones and lacerations can also occur, particularly when main exits are blocked due to a fire code violation, or by the fire itself, and residents are forced to escape via windows or balconies.
Smoke inhalation is particularly dangerous, because while burns and breaks are easily recognized once emergency crews arrive, the full effects of smoke inhalation can take several days to manifest. As noted in an overview of the study of smoke inhalation conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), all fires produce carbon monoxide, which is lethal in relatively small doses and can cause permanent neurological damage in survivors.
Many common household materials also release other toxins when burned, including hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen chloride, and ammonia.
Of course, before toxicity from smoke inhalation becomes a concern, you first have to survive the intense heat. Michigan State University warns that indoor fires can exceed temperatures of 1100 degrees Fahrenheit, more than enough to cause lethal damage to the lungs with a single breath.
While many people think of the flames and smoke of a structure fire as a bigger version of a campfire or a cigarette, the reality is far more dangerous. Full-scale structure fires are capable of causing death or permanent damage with shocking efficiency.
What to Do If You’ve Been Affected
If you’ve been affected by a hotel or apartment fire, the first priority is your personal safety and that of your loved ones. Once everyone involved is safe and has received all necessary emergency care, your next step should be contacting an expert. Without one, you could be vulnerable to false accusations of capability, or deceptive, low-ball settlement offers.
Give the Stoddard Firm a call at 678-RESULT to schedule your free consultation, and let’s discuss how our dedicated team of professionals can help you rise from the ashes.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do I have a case?
If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s negligence, you could have a personal injury case. Every situation is different, so there’s no way to know if you have a case without consulting with a qualified personal injury attorney. If you are badly injured or a loved one has died, we are happy to speak with you and investigate the matter at no charge.
How do I pick the right attorney?
You’ll want to look for several qualities when choosing who will represent you. Your attorney should meet with you instead of sending an investigator, and he/she should be available throughout the process instead of having you consistently talk to a legal assistant. Your attorney should have a low number of cases so he/she can devote significant time to you and your case. Your attorney should have experience handling cases with facts similar to yours, and your attorney should have a proven track record with similar claims. Your attorney should also be able to devote significant money to your case so that he/she can hire experts, travel the country finding witnesses, and depose whomever is necessary to achieve justice. It’s also important to make sure your attorney is the right fit on a personal level, which is why you should take advantage of a free consultation.
What do I need to bring with me to the consultation?
For your free consultation, bring all relevant documents that you’ve collected regarding your case. If there are police reports, bills or correspondence from insurance companies, you’ll want to bring those items to the consultation so an attorney can learn as much about your case as possible.
How much time do I have to file a lawsuit?
There is a time limit on how long a person has after an injury to begin a lawsuit. This window is called a statute of limitations. For most personal injury cases in Georgia, the statute of limitations is two years from the time the injury was suffered. However, there are exceptions and subtleties that might change the amount of time you are afforded. Sometimes the period can be as short as 6 months, and other times it can be much longer than two years. Determining the statute of limitations requires a detailed analysis of the facts of your case.
What do your services cost?
A consultation with the Stoddard Law Firm is free. In most circumstances, we earn no fee unless we win your case. If your claim is successful, we take a percentage of the recovered amount.
What has to be proven in a premises liability case?
A successful premises liability claim must show that a hazardous condition exposed you to an unreasonable risk of harm and that the property owner failed to exercise reasonable care to maintain a safe premises. Common examples include slippery floors, unstable structures, broken handrails, stairs not built to code, scalding apartment shower water, natural gas explosions, electrical shocks, and improperly fenced swimming pools. There are several factors that can make or break a case, which is why it’s important to work with an experienced lawyer who can thoroughly investigate the situation.
How is negligent security different from premises liability?
Negligent security is a type of premises liability. These claims arise when a person is assaulted on someone else’s property by a third-party. Owners of apartment complexes, hotels, gas stations, and other retail establishments can sometimes be held liable if their inadequate security practices contributed to the attack. Such practices include failure to warn of prior crimes, inadequate lighting, broken access gates, broken locks, and failure to provide security guards.
How can an attorney help me?
Whether your injury was mild or severe, proving fault for premises liability can be a complex process. The standard of care owed by the property owner is made up of many factors and, in some cases, the hazardous conditions may no longer exist. A skilled premises liability attorney knows how to gather and preserve the necessary evidence – and how to defend you against accusations that you should have known about the dangerous condition.
How do I choose an attorney?
There are a lot of lawyers out there, so it’s important to select one that you feel comfortable with and who inspires confidence. Choose one who has experience with the type of claim you have, is qualified, has a good reputation in the legal community, and seems dedicated to helping you win your case.
How do I pay an attorney?
The Stoddard Firm handles litigation on a contingency basis. This means we accept a percentage of the amount we recover for you. If your claim does not have a successful resolution, we do not collect any fee. We are also pleased to offer free consultations.