A Burning Issue: The Legal Consequences of Fire Due to Property Owner Negligence

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In the New York City metro area, property owners are subject to stringent legal responsibilities to maintain safety standards, especially concerning fire prevention and response. The failure of property owners to adhere to local fire codes and safety regulations can result in severe legal consequences.

More importantly, property negligence that leads to injuries, property loss, and death can devastate innocent lives. In this guide, we will explore the link between a property owner's negligence and the legal outcomes following a fire incident, helping to foster an understanding of this complex and potentially volatile issue.

Defining Property Owner Negligence

Property owner negligence refers to a failure by the property owner to exercise the level of care that a reasonably prudent person or company would under the laws that govern safety. This includes not maintaining the property, failing to repair hazards, or ignoring safety regulations that could prevent harm to others. Negligence is determined based on several factors, such as the foreseeability of harm; failure to follow government regulations and codes; and the owner’s failure to act to prevent accidental fires.

In legal terms, a property owner is negligent if they:

Owe a duty of care to the people who enter the property, whether they are tenants, visitors, or even trespassers in some cases.
Breach that duty by failing to act as a reasonably prudent person would.
Cause harm or damage as a direct result of their breach of duty.
There is measurable harm that has occurred, such as physical injury, financial loss, or property damage.

In the New York City area, instances of property owner negligence have resulted in fires, injuries, and deaths. Failure to maintain properties and their systems, or neglecting to ensure that safety equipment is functional, has the potential to cost lives.

Examples of Negligence Leading to Fire Injuries

On December 28, 2017, a fire swept through a building located at 2363 Prospect Avenue in the Belmont neighborhood near the Bronx Zoo. When the flames had finally been extinguished by responding crews from the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), the event’s true devastation was revealed. In all, 13 people lost their lives, with dozens of other people receiving injuries during and in the aftermath of the blaze. A stove with faulty safety controls was blamed for the fire.

On January 9, 2022, the lives of dozens of families would be changed forever after a fire swept through the Twin Parks apartment located at 333 E. 181st Street. Those families are still struggling to pick up the pieces of shattered lives and shattered hearts. The Twin Parks Northwest fire is cited as the deadliest fire of its kind in New York City, surpassing the tragic fire at another apartment building in the Bronx that occurred a year earlier and resulted in the deaths of 13 building residents.

While the cause of the fire was tied to a faulty space heater, negligence on the part of property owners and managers resulted in self-closing fire doors not operating correctly and allowing fire and smoke to spread throughout the building.

The East Flatbush neighborhood was the scene of an apartment fire at East 92nd Street in May, 2023. This fire was blamed on a faulty air conditioning unit, which dropped sparks and embers into a trash pile outside the building. One person died and another severely injured; damage to property and furnishings represented a significant financial impact for building tenants.

Victims in these and many other residential fires caused by negligence have been represented by Ronemus & Vilensky, LLP. The law firm is known for its experience in serving as victim advocates and for seeking justice when people are injured through the actions, inaction, or negligence of others. The firm has also been instrumental in bringing public attention to the causes of apartment fires in New York City and have been the driving force in a City crack down on delinquent property owners.

How Does Property Negligence Result in Fire Risks?

Property negligence can significantly increase the risk of fire in several ways. When  property owners fail to maintain their premises adequately or ignore safety protocols,  they create conditions that can easily lead to fires. Here are some common examples of how property negligence can result in fire risks:

Faulty Electrical Systems: Not repairing or updating outdated wiring, overloaded circuits, and faulty electrical equipment can lead to electrical fires.
Lack of Fire Safety Equipment: Failing to provide or maintain essential fire safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and fire alarms can prevent early detection and control of fires.
Improper Storage: Negligently storing flammable materials like gasoline, paint thinners, and other chemicals can increase the likelihood of a fire if these materials are exposed to heat sources or sparks.
Inadequate Building Maintenance: Poor maintenance of heating systems, including furnaces and boilers, or the accumulation of combustible materials like trash and debris, can create fire hazards.
Neglected Appliances: Appliances that are not regularly inspected or maintained can malfunction and overheat, potentially sparking a fire.
Violation of Safety Codes: Ignoring or violating local fire safety codes, such as obstructing fire exits, not adhering to building materials standards, or improper installation of heating units, can also lead to fires.

By not addressing these issues, property owners not only risk the safety of their buildings and occupants but also expose themselves to legal liabilities for any damage or harm caused by fires due to their negligence. It's crucial for property owners to comply with safety regulations and perform regular maintenance to minimize fire risks.

Legal Consequences of Fires Resulting from Property Negligence or Neglect

In New York City, property owners have an obligation to maintain reasonably safe buildings, especially those buildings that are used for residential purposes. Unfortunately, neglect and negligence have injured hundreds of people each year – and in some of the fires caused by negligence, people have lost their lives.

Common legal consequences of fires resulting from negligence include:

Civil Liability:
Damages for Injury or Death: Property owners may be required to pay compensation to those injured or to the families of those who died as a result of the fire. This includes medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and in the case of fatalities, wrongful death damages.
Property Damage: Owners may also be liable for damages to neighboring properties or for the destruction of tenants' belongings.
Insurance Claims: Insurance companies may pay out claims to cover damages but then seek to recover these costs from the property owner if negligence is proven.

Criminal Liability:
Criminal Charges: If the negligence is severe, such as willful disregard for safety regulations or repeated violations, property owners might face criminal charges. These can include charges of involuntary manslaughter or criminal negligence if deaths occurred due to the fire.
Fines and Penalties: Local governments may impose fines and penalties for violations of fire safety codes.

Regulatory Actions:
Loss of Licenses and Permits: Depending on the regulations and the nature of the property (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial), a negligent property owner may face suspension or revocation of operational licenses or building permits.
Mandatory Remedial Measures: Authorities might require property owners to undertake specific remedial actions to bring the property into compliance with safety codes, which can be costly.

Reputational Damage:
Beyond legal consequences, property owners may suffer significant reputational damage, which can impact their business operations and property values.

It is important for property owners to understand their responsibilities and adhere to all applicable safety codes and regulations to prevent such legal and financial repercussions.

What to Do if You’ve Been Injured by a Negligence-Related Fire

If a New York City resident is injured in a fire caused by property owner negligence, there are several important steps they should take to protect their health, safety, and legal rights:

Seek Medical Attention:
The first priority is to seek immediate medical treatment for any injuries. This not only ensures health and safety but also provides medical records that serve as evidence of the injuries sustained in the fire.

Report the Fire:
Ensure that the fire has been reported to the local fire department. Firefighters and investigators will examine the site to determine the cause of the fire. Obtain a copy of the fire report, which might indicate the source and cause of the fire, potentially supporting claims of negligence.

Contact an Attorney:
Consult with a personal injury attorney who specializes in premises liability or fire-related cases. Legal expertise is crucial in navigating the complexities of liability and negligence laws.
An attorney can help assess the validity of the claim, gather necessary evidence, and represent the injured party in negotiations with insurance companies or in court.

Avoid Quick Settlements:
Be cautious about accepting quick settlements from insurance companies or property owners. Consult with an attorney before agreeing to any compensation that may not fully cover the total costs or future implications of the injuries.

The Role of a Premises Liability Attorney

At the experienced law firm of Ronemus & Vilensky, LLP, the legal team is known for their expertise in helping injury victims recover financial compensation for lost wages, loss of property, and pain and suffering.

A premises liability and fire attorney specializes in cases where an individual has been injured on someone else's property due to the property owner's negligence or failure to
maintain safe conditions.

Here are some key roles and responsibilities of a premises liability attorney:

Legal Consultation: They provide initial consultations to potential clients to assess the merits of their case, explain their legal rights, and discuss possible courses of action.

Case Evaluation: Attorneys evaluate the details of the incident, including the severity of injuries, the conditions of the property, and any violations of local or federal safety
regulations.

Gathering Evidence: They collect evidence to support the client’s claims. This includes obtaining accident reports, security camera footage, witness statements, medical records, and expert testimonies regarding the property’s condition and the nature of the injuries.

Determining Liability: One of the crucial aspects is determining liability, which involves establishing that the property owner had a duty of care to the injured party, that there was a breach of this duty, and that the breach directly caused the injuries.

Negotiations: Premises liability attorneys often negotiate with the property owner’s insurance company to reach a settlement that fairly compensates the injured party for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Litigation: If a settlement cannot be reached, the attorney may file a lawsuit on behalf of the client. They will represent the client in court, present the case, and argue on their behalf to secure a favorable jury verdict.

Legal Strategy: They develop a legal strategy tailored to each specific case, considering all the legal nuances and the specific circumstances of the injury.

Advice on Legal Rights and Options: Throughout the process, they keep the client informed of their legal rights and the various options available, helping them make informed decisions.

Advocacy: They serve as advocates for the injured party’s rights, working to ensure that property owners are held accountable for their negligence.

By fulfilling these roles, a premises liability attorney, specializing in fire cases, plays a critical role in helping injured individuals receive justice and compensation, while also promoting safer property maintenance practices.

Call Ronemus & Vilensky Today

If you or a family member has been injured through no fault of your own, you have rights. The Law Offices of Ronemus & Vilensky, LLP, can help you exercise those rights.

Individuals injured in residential fires caused by property owner negligence, property manager neglect, or inaction related to addressing safety issues may face months or years of physical and financial trauma. To overcome these challenges, the law firm of Ronemus & Vilensky has been instrumental.

Our firm helps injury victims file claims, provides legal expertise and guidance in all phases of a claim, and ensures that the rights of injury victims are preserved. Call today for a free consultation with our personal injury experts.

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