With the recent snowstorms and frigid temperatures, there are always unfortunate incidents as a consequence of our severe weather. In early January, a fire in a Bronx, New York apartment complex caused by a space heater killed 17 people. Here in Massachusetts, we have our own complement of apartment fires that have led to unnecessary deaths and tragedies. At Burns & Jain, we have represented victims of space heater fires.
In 2021, our state experienced 42 fatal fires that killed 44 people. Around 14% of those fires were linked to electrical devices. Of those killed, 41% were seniors over the age of 65. Fortunately, no children were killed.
Fire Safety Always a Priority
The state fire marshal is urging residents to be cautious when using space heaters, a device commonly used during freezing temperatures to either supplement the heat residents are receiving in their units or as their sole source of heat. Many low-income families rely on space heaters as they cannot afford their heating bills, which can be substantial. Energy costs across the nation have doubled over the past year due to inflation.
While space heaters can provide heat and comfort, the fire marshal noted that they should only be used as temporary sources of heat. If you do use one, then follow these suggestions:
- Plug them in directly to a wall socket and do not use an extension since these can easily overload and overwhelm the electrical system
- Keep heaters at least 3 feet from curtains, bedding, or any other flammable materials
- Be sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your apartment, especially in sleeping areas
Also, have a plan if there is a fire in your apartment or the building where your unit is located. Know where the fire escapes are located and that they are easily accessible in an emergency. If a fire breaks out, get everyone to the fire escape and leave your belongings behind. Fires spread very quickly, and if you hesitate you may find your exit blocked by flames or fallen structures.
If you are low income or experiencing problems in paying your heating or other utility bills, you can apply for fuel assistance through an agency called Action for Boston Community Development.
Liability of Landlords
Building owners and landlords have a duty of reasonable care toward their residents that includes providing them with safe, livable units, or apartments that are free from defects and fit for its intended use. They have a duty to take reasonable precautions to prevent fires that may include inspecting their leased units for fire hazards, and to provide working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Fire escapes must be usable and available in emergencies as well. Common areas such as stairways and walkways must also be kept safe.
Landlords are responsible for maintaining the wiring, appliances, fixtures, and any other structures that can cause fires. Similarly, they are responsible for maintaining adequate lighting in common areas and to ensure that stairs are free of defects. They must adhere to city and state regulations, ordinances, and codes. If your personal injury lawyer discovers that your landlord ignored or otherwise violated a safety code or ordinance, then he may be liable for any damages you suffered.
In most fires, the fire marshal or fire experts can locate the source and cause of a fire that can expose the landlord’s negligence. Even if a fire was a tenant’s fault such as placing a space heater too close to curtains, should the landlord have failed to install a fire or smoke alarm or it proved to be defective, the landlord can still be held liable. Similarly, if the fire escape was locked or was unfit to use, then liability can be imposed on the building owner.
Damages in an Apartment Fire
If you or family members were injured in an apartment fire caused by the landlord’s negligence, then you may be able to recover certain damages. These can include:
- Cost to replace damaged property
- Relocation expenses
- Other living expenses
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Diminished quality of life
- Permanent disability or disfigurement
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
Apartment building owners are covered by insurance, but defense lawyers and insurers for landlords will fight you by denying liability, placing blame on you, and contesting your damages. Be sure you retain a seasoned and experienced personal injury lawyer from Burns and Jain. Our attorneys have represented fire victims and tenants injured by the negligence of landlords for decades.
Retain a Personal Injury Lawyer from Burns and Jain
At Burns and Jain, we will fight for your rights as a tenant and injured victim and do all we can to ensure that you and your family are adequately compensated. Call us at (617) 227-7423 for a free consultation about your injury or wrongful death claim.