In early January 2021, the Massachusetts Fire Marshall issued an astonishing statement that no children perished in a fire in our state during 2020. This is the first time since records on fire-related fatalities have been kept that this has occurred. This extends to records maintained since the 1940s.
Children Safety In Home Fires
Children and senior citizens are the groups most at risk for sustaining burn injuries and deaths from a residential fire. Unfortunately, there were still 39 fatalities in Massachusetts from home fires, that includes not only burns but smoke inhalation. Many of the victims were 65 and over. The fatality number was slightly down from 42 in 2019.
Much of the credit for this development can go to the S.A.F.E. program, or Student Awareness of Fire Education Program, that brings fire awareness to the schools. The program stresses safe practices and information on ensuring that smoke alarms are operating and being periodically checked, what are safe cooking practices, checking heating devices, how to safely light candles, being aware of the dangers in decorating Christmas trees with electric lights, and practicing home fire drills. Families are encouraged to have a plan when a fire is discovered including what route to take and to not dawdle while deciding if certain toys or mementoes should be taken along to prevent destruction.
Smoke alarms are essential in preventing deaths. Testing of your home smoke alarm, and ensuring that those that can detect carbon monoxide can save dozens of lives each year in our state. The advantage of a smoke alarm is that it gives you time.
Causes of Home Fires
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that there are about 350,000 home fires across the US each year resulting in around 2,000 deaths.
There are a number of factors that can lead to a house fire. Every year we read about home fires that have wiped out entire families, or that have devastated grieving survivors who will have to deal with the trauma of losing beloved relatives for the rest of their lives.
Home fires are mainly caused by the following:
- Cooking—this is the number one cause of home fires comprising 48% of all residential fires. Leaving a burner on or causing a grease fire are not uncommon. Do not leave toasters or electric griddles unattended and be sure to clean them thoroughly. Outdoor grills left too close to wooden structures or trees are a common hazard.
- Home space heaters and baseboard heaters–these cause about 15% of home fires resulting in 25,000 fires and more than 300 fatalities each year.
- Electrical fires—faults in home wiring are responsible for 51,000 fires and nearly 500 deaths. Overloaded circuits or shorts can cause sparks that can ignite building materials. About 19% of home fire deaths are linked to electrical causes.
- Christmas tree fires-trees dry out and become kindling when a hot light or spark ignites them and engulfs a room in flames literally within seconds. Around 170 deaths per year are caused by Christmas trees. Light bulb strings should be inspected for wear or if they show bare wires.
- Candles—80 deaths and 770 injuries each year result from unattended candles that catch onto inflammable materials, as well as matches that get into the hands of children. Holidays like New Years, Christmas, and Hannukah are prime times for home fires related to candles.
- Smoking—while the number of people who smoke has declined, fires from this source still result in around 1,000 deaths and 3,000 burn injuries each year. Many of these fires occur from smoking in bed when the smoker falls asleep and is unable to do much to save him or herself from a painful burn or worse.
- Chemicals—Keeping gasoline or other inflammable liquids in the home is never advised. The reaction of a chemical combining with oxygen can produce enough heat to reach a flashpoint and ignite a fire. Each year, about 14,000 residential fires begin in this manner. Oily rags, paint thinners, and mineral spirits are other culprits.
- Natural gas explosions, hot water heater and furnace explosions, washing machine or dryer—defective equipment is usually the cause of these deadly explosions.
Responsible Parties in a Home Fire
Although some fires are caused by residents who leave burners on, who fall asleep while smoking in bed, or who are careless in stringing defective lights on a Christmas tree, many are the result of the negligence of others. These include:
- Manufacturers of defective appliances
- Manufacturers of inflammable furniture
- Electricians who negligently install or fix faulty wiring
- Propane or natural gas companies
- Property maintenance companies
- Manufacturer of a defective smoke alarm
Landlords are responsible for keeping tenants safe, and for maintaining common areas. They also have a duty to regularly inspect areas or equipment for which they are responsible, and to identify and remove fire and other safety hazards. Landlords are required under Massachusetts law to install and maintain operable smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms in each dwelling. This includes checking the alarms and replacing batteries. For rental units, landlords must keep themselves abreast of laws on smoke alarm installation and maintenance.
Manufacturers of appliances also have a duty to manufacture products that are safe and do not constitute an unreasonable risk of harm of injury. Litigation that includes electricians, landlords, and equipment or appliance manufacturers are often complicated and challenging and demands the skills and experience of a seasoned personal injury lawyer.
The fire marshall will investigate a home fire and determine its cause, but often more investigation needs to be done that can reveal other causes or responsible parties. If you or a family member was injured or killed in a home fire accident, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer from the law office of Burns and Jain.
Our office represents victims of home fires, especially child victims who may have to endure years or even a life-time of pain, scarring, and emotional distress. Burns are especially insidious and may require frequent and painful surgeries and treatments over a prolonged period, resulting in substantial medical expenses.
The types of burn injuries include:
- First degree burns—these are superficial and affect the first layer of skin, resulting in redness and swelling. They usually heal on their own.
- Second degree burns—damage to two layers of skin, or the epidermis and dermis. Scarring is possible with blistering, sensitivity, and some pain. Surgery is usually not necessary.
- Third degree burns—all layers of the skin are affected. Skin grafting, surgery or skin transplantation are often needed for these extremely serious injuries.
- Fourth degree—the most serious type that extends to bone and muscle and are usually fatal.
Damages in Home Fire Injuries and Deaths
Damages in any personal injury case depends on a variety of factors, but they usually consist of the following:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Emotional distress
- Diminished quality of life
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
Though child victims are not working, their future employment possibilities, marketable skills, and loss of income can be determined by forensic economists and rehabilitation experts.
If a fatality occurs, damages may be:
- Medical expenses, if any, incurred before death
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Loss of income to dependent family members
- Loss of the decedents’ counsel, guidance, love, and advice
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or deemed to be willful, or exhibited reckless disregard for the rights and safety of the plaintiff or victim
Retain a Personal Injury Lawyer from Burns and Jain
Severe burn injury and wrongful death cases from residential fires can be complicated, and especially when they involve child victims. By retaining a highly experienced personal injury lawyer from the law firm of Burns and Jain, you can be assured that your claim and your damages will be vigorously pursued, and all responsible parties held accountable. Call us at (617) 227-7423 for a free, in-depth discussion of your wrongful death or serious burn injury case.