A celebration for the Fourth of July holiday turned ugly when a fire at an apartment building injured one person and displaced 11 others from their homes. According to a report from Washington-Baltimore area NBC affiliate Channel 4 News, the fire started when someone attending the get-together put charcoal in a lit propane grill. The contents quickly erupted into flames, engulfing the back of the structure and an attached deck. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue received the call around 8:45 p.m., and crews arrived to see huge plumes of black smoke flowing from an apartment in the middle of the building. The fire and relief efforts caused damage to several units, forcing neighbors to find other lodging for the night.

Witnesses say the fire went from a spark to a blaze within just a few minutes. They first noticed popping sounds as the backside of the apartment succumbed to the flames; soon, the fire started shooting out of the roof. The damage to the property is extensive and expected to exceed $550,000. However, for the victim who was rushed to the hospital for injuries, there may be a significant recovery period. There is a potential cause of action based upon premises liability, especially considering that burns are extraordinarily agonizing and may lead to permanent scarring.



If you have been injured seriously in a fire, through no fault of your own, you may have a difficult road ahead of you.  Your pain and suffering will likely be immense. Further, the victim and surrounding family is usually in no position to take action to document and preserve evidence during a time of difficult emotional struggle. After a fire, to properly prepare a claim, it may be necessary to do some or all of the following:

  • Take detailed photographs of structure which caught fire should be taken immediately by your lawyer and/or his investigator. These photos will need to be cross-referenced by a fire expert who will be able to compare the structure photographed against detailed construction specifications in order to determine the cause of the fire
  • Witnesses will need to be interviewed as soon as possible after the fire to preserve the accuracy of their memories as memories fade and become less reliable over time. Statements and affidavits from these witnesses should be obtained as soon as possible.
  • Statements and reports will need to be obtained from the local fire department, the fire department incident commander, witnesses to the fire and anyone who called the police to report the fire.
  • Preservation letters need to be sent to the appropriate authorities, experts, fire investigators and so forth. If evidence is not properly preserved, a defendant in a fire case will be able to make an argument at trial that evidence has been spoilated by the individual bringing the claim against them. This spoilation instruction may be read to a jury and may be factored by a jury when deciding whet ether the Defendant was really at fault in causing the fire.
  • There may be multiple responsible parties depending on where the fault lies. These parties will need to be identified as soon as possible as there may be statutes of limitations or timelines by which lawsuits must be filed, which may depending on the identity of the defendant, or the state in which the fire occurred in.


Legal Aspects: A Brief Overview of Negligence Standard For Premises Liability Actions

When an accident is caused by a dangerous condition on a piece of property, the incident frequently gives rise to a premises liability cause of action.  Any type of real estate may contain a hazard, including a commercial building, public property, a residence, or an apartment building. In addition, there are many reasons the property may be dangerous, such as defective support structures, clutter, slippery surfaces, improper maintenance, or other conditions.

After an accident occurs on a piece of property due to a dangerous condition, the question becomes: Who is responsible for paying an injured victim compensation for the losses he or she sustains? There are two general guidelines for determining liability.

Rule #1

Without getting too technical, an owner or occupier of the premises generally has a legal duty to keep the property clear of any unreasonable risk of injury for anyone who may enter it. The duty extends to such individuals as apartment tenants, shoppers in a store, diners at a restaurant, and other people who may be present at the premises. The justification of applying this duty is that the owner or occupier is in the best position to manage the property and ensure its safety. A visitor is not. Note however that a premsies owner is not an insurer for any and all harm that occurs on the premises. The owner/occupier only has a reasonable duty of care to prevent harm that it knows about or should have known about. What is reasonable is often a question of fact for a judge or jury to determine.

Rule #2

Whether a guest or a customer, Visitors must also be reasonable in their approach to using the property. If a person is injured while acting in an unexpected, unusual, hazardous, or illegal way, the owner or occupier is typically not held accountable. Consider these examples:

  • A visitor slides down the handrail of a staircase at a shopping center and the rail breaks, causing injuries to the visitor. The owner or occupier is not liable.
  • A person breaks into an apartment complex to use the pool and slips while jumping in, resulting in a head injury. The owner or occupier of the apartment building is not responsible for paying compensation.


Burn Injuries and Interplay with Premises Liability Causes of Action and Premises Owner Error's Impact on Damages

Burn injuries caused by someone elses negligence are usually the result of a variant on the premises liability cause of action. As such, if the accident that led to your burns is based upon theories of premises liability, you must also prove every element of your premisis liability case. Just proving you were burned is not always sufficient to prevail. This typically involves a detailed causal analysis as to the cause of the burn and such proof often hinges on expert testimony from engineers and/or fire experts.

In addition, it is necessary to consider the underlying circumstances, which can increase or decrease the value of a burn case. Where the accident that caused the burn was preventable, it is likely that compensation will be higher: The owner or occupier of the building should have exercised greater care to avoid injuries to others. However, where the incident was somewhat out of the party’s control, the award to the victim may be reduced.


Extreme Nature of Burn Injuries

As with many types of personal injury, it is difficult to develop an accurate value of the pain and suffering a victim endures and the value of these cases typically varies depending on specific factors applicable in each case. However, considering the fact that the skin is the human body’s largest organ, and one of the pain receptor dense areas of the human body, tissue and nerve damage on the skin and nerves can result in severe suffering. The following factors may be relevant in determining the level of compensation available to a victim:

  • Severity of the Burn: Burns are medically classified by the depth, size, and location of the injury. First- and second-degree burns accounting on a small portion of the total body are considered minor. Major burns would be those that cover more than 10%, and those classified as third- or fourth-degree would cover more than 5% of the body.
  • Medical Expenses for Treatment: A burn may require extensive treatment, even surgery, which come with high medical bills. Plus, there are the costs associated with future care, as future surgeries may be necessary for scarring.
  • Psychological Consequences to Victim: Burn victims often experience emotional and mental problems as a result of, yet secondary to, their injuries. Severe burns commonly lead to deep psychological problems, at times as a reaction to the extreme pain that burns cause. In addition, a victim who is seriously disfigured must endure the unfavorable scrutiny of others, who can sometimes be not so kind.

If you have been injured by a fire or have otherwise sustained a burn injury through no fault of your own, contact us. We have experience litigating complicated premises liability cases involving fire and we will do everything we can to assist you in recovering damages for extreme pain and suffering.

Robert W. Katz
Bob Katz is Chair of the Personal Injury Group at Gordon Feinblatt, LLC