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I Was Injured In A Fire On Someone Else’s Property…Now What?

According to the most recent study by the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to over 1,345,500 fires in 2015 across the United States.  As a result of these fires, there were a total of 15,700 civilian injuries and 3,280 civilian deaths.  Additionally, fires in 2015 resulted in over $14.3 billion in direct property loss.  Of the 3,280 civilian deaths, 78% of these deaths occurred in the home.  Across the nation, a civilian died in a home fire every three hours and 25 minutes in 2015.  Of the 15,700 fire injuries reported, 71% of these injuries occurred in the home resulting in a fire related injury every 47 minutes across the U.S.

Unfortunately fires happen.  Tennessee currently ranks sixth in the nation for fire mortality rates.  In the most recent report by the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office, 60 fatal fires were recorded in 2015 that resulted in 72 deaths.  While the cause of most of the fires is unknown, it is believed that smoking, electrical work, heating units, and cooking led to the most structure fires in 2015.

Whether these fires were intentional, “acts of God,” or caused by the negligence of the property owner, everyone should know what avenues of recovery are available to them. Survivors of a fire may experience serious burn injuries, such as third degree burns.  If you are injured in a structure fire, you may have a claim against the homeowner’s insurance liability coverage on the property.  It is important to note that the cause of the fire is a very important factor when deciding whether a homeowner’s liability coverage will cover an injured party’s injuries.  Intentional acts by the owner and acts of God generally will not be covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy.  However, if the owner acted negligently and a fire resulted, then you may have a valid claim against the owner’s policy.

Several actions by the homeowner could cause the owner to be found negligent in a burn injury case, such as negligently cooking, starting a fire, lighting a heater, smoking, or improperly wiring a ceiling fan.  Moreover, a homeowner could also be found negligent for not exercising reasonable care under the circumstances.  For instance, if the homeowner knows of something that could potentially cause a fire and fails to notify his customer or guest, and a fire results due to the guest not properly being informed, the homeowner could be found negligent under Tennessee law. Many burn injuries result in permanent scarring and disfigurement.

An example of homeowner negligence could be a faulty wiring system in one of the light switches that the owner knows about, yet fails to inform his guest of the dangers of using it.  If a fire results from the guest using the switch and the guest is injured, the guest then may be able to file a claim against the homeowner’s liability insurance policy.  Another example could be a propane heater that malfunctions if turned on that the owner was aware of, but did not inform his guest of the dangers of lighting the heater.  If the guest lights the heater and an explosion/fire results, this could ultimately activate that homeowner’s liability insurance policy leading to potential recovery for the guest.

Homeowners are generally not held responsible for dangers that are obvious and reasonably expected.  In Tennessee, a guest is expected to use common sense and be wary of potential dangers around them.  Moreover, the homeowner typically must have known or had reason to know about a dangerous condition before they will be held liable for any accident resulting on their property.  The standard of care in Tennessee is that an owner should exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to protect and inform his guests. An experienced personal injury attorney understands how fact-specific these cases can be and will be able to fully investigate the incident, interview key witnesses, and document the injured party’s damages.

If you are injured on someone else’s property, whether from fire or some other unfortunate accident, the first thing you should do is seek medical treatment.  It is also important to remember to take pictures of what caused the injury, talk to witnesses, and immediately record what you remember happening. To discuss your accident with an experienced Memphis attorney, call Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz at 1-800-LAW-4004.