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.
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.
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 negligence actions.
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.
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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