It's more voracious than a pack of teenage boys, it moves quicker than
preschoolers after birthday party cupcakes, and its heat makes the steamiest
Florida day seem chilly - fire is truly a force. As a Panama City home
fire law firm we see the tragic aftermath of home fires, experience that
makes us strong advocates for fire safety education and programs like
the Fire Prevention Festival. Covered by WJHG, the event kicked off Fire
Prevention Month and spread important safety tips while teaching children
that firefighters are friends. We hope everyone listens to the broader
fire safety message, including area landlords whose actions can put lives
and well-being of others at risk. This post looks at this important element
of fire safety, examining landlord duties and the rights of renters injured
in apartment fires or other rental-unit blaze.
Landlords & Apartment Fires: How a Landlord Can Contribute to the Threat of Fires
Home fires have many causes and a renter may face danger because of a landlord's
actions (or inaction). Fires can start with a defective water heater,
a malfunctioning large appliance, or faulty wiring, just a few of the
many causes typically under a landlord's control. Beyond the initial
sparks, a landlord's actions can also exacerbate a fire. Blocked fire
exits, absent or broken smoke alarms, or other missing safety equipment
can turn a small fire into a life-endangering blaze. Maintenance failures
can both spark and sustain a fire. In short, a tenant's life may rest
in a landlord's hands.
Landlords & Apartment Fires: Legal Liability
In general, tenants (like other plaintiffs) must show that a fire was the
result of the landlord's negligence in order to trigger liability
and recover damages. This includes showing the landlord knew or should
have known about the dangerous condition that gave rise to the fire. An
example: Suppose Lionel Landlord never checked the wiring of an old rental
property and the wiring sparked a fire that hurt Tom Tenant. If the court
agrees that a reasonable landlord would have inspected the wiring, Lionel
will likely be held liable for Tom's injuries. Landlord fire claims
generally fall under the four year statute of limitations applicable to
Landlords have particularly stringent duties when it comes to keeping common
areas safe and clean (see Florida Statute 83.51(2)(a)(3)). For example,
a landlord might be held liable if boxes or debris piled in a shared hallway
or laundry room led to a fire while a landlord is unlikely to be liable
for the same condition in the tenant's own unit. Access and control are key.
When a landlord violated a law or regulation intended to protect renters
and the violation led to a fire, an injured plaintiff can rely on the
concept of negligence per se to hold the landlord liable without having
to prove negligence. In Concord Florida, Inc. v. Lewin an appeals court
explains that "violation of a statute which establishes a duty to
take precautions to protect a particular class of persons from a particular
injury or type of injury is negligence per se."
The court finds that violation of a county fire safety code can amount
to negligence per se. If a landlord violates a fire safety law or code
and that violation causes a fire that injures a renter, negligence is
presumed and the landlord is liable for the damage caused by the violation.
An example: If Lisa Landlord did not supply a required smoke detector
and that failure allowed a fire that caused Tina Tenant serious burns,
the landlord is liable for Tina's injuries.
Landlords & Apartment Fires: A Tenant's Safety Law Firm
Some landlords are diligent about safety and dedicated to ensuring their
tenants have a safe, comfortable dwelling. Others knowingly put profits
over tenant safety. Most probably fall someplace in the middle. The reality
is that a landlord's negligence can endanger a tenant's life,
particularly when fire safety is an issue.
Home fires can inflict physical, economic, and emotional damage. If you
have been injured because of a Northwest Florida landlord's negligence
or failure to comply with safety regulations (or if you aren't sure
whether conduct violated a safety code), call us. Our phones answer 24/7
and we can arrange free consultation between you and our Panama City tenant's
injury lawyer. Attorney Wes Pittman can help you recover monetary compensation
and send a message to all landlords about the importance of maintaining
a safe rental unit.
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