New Jersey Fire Accident Lawyers
A harrowing and traumatic experience is when a family faces a fire in their home. It will not only cause damage to the structure and destroy priceless family heirlooms, but it can lead to severe injuries that victims may not recover from. Between 2014 to 2018, more than 77 percent of civilian fire deaths were caused by home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Home fires continue to be a leading cause of fire deaths. During that same time period, U.S. fire departments responded to 353,100 home structure fires each year.
Overall, a fire is a deadly and unpredictable disaster that frequently takes place in the United States. In fact, it is estimated that someone is killed in a fire every 144 minutes while someone is injured in a fire every 35 minutes, according to the NFPA. Most of these deaths occur due to severe or fatal burn injuries during residential fires.
The personal injuries that burn victims sustain can be extensive. Serious burn injuries can often mean years of surgeries, skin grafts, and even psychological counseling for victims. It could take years of recovery while the victims endure their treatment. There could also be psychological damage inflicted due to the incident.
This can result in significant medicals bills and a loss of income since the victim may not be able to return to work in the same capacity again.
Personal injury cases are designed to provide fair and just compensation to victims when those injuries were sustained due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of another party. A personal injury lawsuit seeks to reimburse victims for their medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering, as well as the emotional and psychological trauma that resulted from the accident. The New Jersey fire accident lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr help plaintiffs with severe burn injuries recover compensation.
What are the Main Causes of Fires?
There are numerous causes of fires with each one leading to a particular type of damage and burn pattern. In most cases, fires can be prevented through routine maintenance of appliances and electrical outlets. In other cases, the circumstances are beyond a person’s control. Common types of fires include:
- Gas and Explosion Fires: These types of fires can be caused by problems with the gas lines; they were either installed poorly or were not properly maintained.
- Electrical Fires: Another fire that can be reduced through routine upkeep is that of the electrical wiring around a building.
- Furnace or Water Heater Fire Damage: If not properly maintained, a furnace can also fail and explode, resulting in a significant fire.
- Chemical Fires: These occur in factories that house dangerous and flammable chemicals. If they are not properly stored, they can result in a serious fire.
- Defective Product Fires: Certain electrical devices can cause fires, such as defective cellphones, appliances, and power tools.
Vigilance around the home and work can greatly reduce the likelihood of a fire breaking out. Carelessness can cause fires just like faulty wiring. People need to be cognizant of their actions. Examples include kitchen fires, fires caused by tossed cigarettes, campfires, and other forest wildfires.
In addition, there are ways to detect fires or to stop fires before they are uncontrollable. However, if devices are not taken care of, then it is the equivalent of not having them at all. Those devices include smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, fire alarms, fire escapes, and fire extinguishers.
Who is Liable for a Fire?
The person or entity responsible for maintaining the property where a fire broke out can be held liable for its cause and any subsequent damage. If a piece of equipment failed and caused a fire, then the person responsible for taking care of that device could be held liable as well as the original manufacturer.
To prove negligence, the plaintiff must first prove that the defendant had a legal duty and then failed to fulfill that duty. They must also prove that the failure to perform that duty directly resulted in the fire that caused the injuries. They must also prove that the plaintiff was injured in some capacity.
Generally, a plaintiff can sue for negligence under certain circumstances, including the following:
- A landowner who does not maintain their property can cause a significant fire, such as failing to install smoke detectors.
- Professionals who are not correctly performing their services.
- A municipality or other public agency that does not properly identify a possible hazard or fails to recommend precautions.
- A property owner who maintains flammable or combustible materials near a heat source or in another unsafe environment.
- A homeowner or a company that does not properly install or manage electrical wiring in their building in the correct manner.
- A property owner decides to place obstacles or otherwise hinders a person’s ability to use the fire exits in a building, thus increasing their chance of getting hurt in a fire.
There is also the possibility of filing a product liability case in the wake of a fire if the correct circumstances exist. If negligence is found, those held responsible could be the designer, the manufacturer, or the marketer of the product that was found to be the cause of the fire.
To win this type of case, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the product was either defective, was improperly designed, or that the defendant was otherwise at fault. In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant manufactured, distributed, sold, or installed the product. Additionally, they must prove that the defendant’s own actions or lack of actions led to the defect that caused the burn injury.
The defective product in question could be one that malfunctioned, which directly caused the fire and injuries. It could also pertain to a device, such as a smoke detector or sprinkler system, that failed, which resulted in a fire that caused injuries and property damage.
As with other product liability cases, there are three phases of product development that can be prone to problems that can lead to a case. The three areas include:
Design Defect: The product in question was designed poorly or did not factor in the impact of wear and tear, which led to its failure and ultimately the fire that caused a person’s injuries. For example, a car designer could place an exhaust pipe too close to combustible elements, leading to an explosion.
Manufacturing Defect: When a product does not meet the specifications of the designer or the manufacturer, it could result in a manufacturing defect. Someone involved in the manufacturing of a product could have failed to install something or did not catch something. Defects in electrical products, such as a toaster or an iron, could lead to house fires that start without anyone noticing.
Marketing Defect: When a company fails to provide sufficient instructions on how to properly use a product or does not provide suitable warnings about a product’s potential dangers, these are signs of marketing defects. This could mean that the company is held liable for not addressing these factors. For instance, if a blender does not have a warning about an overheating danger, the company could be at fault for not providing the warning.
How Effective are Smoke Detectors in Preventing Fires?
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), fires are the second leading cause of unintentional death in the home, and about 17,000 people die each year in household fires. However, it is normally not the actual fire that causes the injures, but the smoke that is created. Smoke inhalation can lead to significant damage to a person’s lungs. This makes the installation of smoke detectors in a home more important as they are highly effective at warning residents about a fire before it is too late.
There are several ways to keep the home safe, and there are a few steps that people can take to reduce the chance of a fire breaking out. Those steps include:
- Buying smoke detectors that come complete with a warranty of at least five years.
- Any smoke detector purchased should also come equipped with malfunction alarms that will either beep or chirp when there is a problem, such as low batteries.
- Ensure the smoke alarm is installed properly. The best method is to hard wire the device with a battery backup. That way, if the power goes out, the smoke detector will still function.
- When installing a smoke detector, it should be kept away from windows, doors, or air ducts that can interfere with their operation.
- There is no correct amount of smoke detectors to install, but people should have one installed on every level of a home, including the basement.
- Other rooms that should have a smoke detector are the bedroom areas and rooms with an increased chance of a fire, such as the kitchen.
- The CPSC recommends that smoke detector batteries be checked at least twice a year. Many people choose to do it on daylight saving time (DST).
Installing a smoke detector is the first line of defense in being alerted to a fire. It can give a family those precious extra moments to get out of the house to avoid injuries or even prevent a small fire from growing out of control.
What are Common Fire-Related Injuries?
Every year, many people are injured in residential fires. While those killed in house fires is tragic, those with injuries suffer as well. In many cases, those who suffer long-term health complications will deal with the issues for the rest of their lives.
The victim primarily suffers from burns and respiratory injuries. In the former, a person’s skin is exposed directly to the flame or another heat source. The level of damage will determine the overall ramifications. Respiratory injuries are also common for those trapped in a fire with a lack of oxygen and an excessive amount of smoke.
Burns can range from an inconvenience to a serious and catastrophic injury, depending upon the level of exposure. The degrees of burn injuries include:
First-Degree Burns: This is the equivalent to a sunburn. Victims will have some redness on their skin and be in slight discomfort for a few days. There has been evidence to suggest that these burns could lead to a rise in the risk of skin cancer.
Second-Degree Burns: The damage from this extends to the lower layer underneath the skin. Blisters will form around the injured area, which is moist and extremely painful to the touch. Bacterial infection is a risk, and it will take several weeks to a month to heal.
Third-Degree Burns: The skin is charred at all levels, although the victim will likely not feel any pain because of nerve damage. The damaged area will be dry and leathery and is impossible to repair. The damaged skin must be removed and replaced with grafts. There is a high chance of infection as well.
Fourth-Degree Burns: These occur when there is total damage to the skin, and the muscle tissues and bones are charred. There is likely no pain due to nerve damage; however, this is a life-threatening injury that may require amputation of the damaged area or extensive plastic surgery. Along with infection, there is also a high risk of gangrene.
Respiratory injuries are also associated with fires because victims who are trapped in buildings during fires are forced to inhale toxic air. There is a combination of suffocation or asphyxiation and smoke inhalation, which can have devastating effects. Breathing injuries are the primary cause of death in house fires. There are a few components that lead to breathing injures, which include:
Oxygen-Depleted Air: Fire consumes air, leaving a toxic combination of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Carbon monoxide can be even more difficult because it can bond closely to the hemoglobin in the blood. This makes it difficult to revive a patient with just oxygen therapy. A person begins to suffer confusion, drowsiness, and can pass away when exposed too long to an oxygen-depleted environment.
Hot Gases: Breathing in superheated combustible elements can have devastating effects on a person. This debris can scorch and scar nasal passages and lung tissue. The damage can then lead to permanent and disabling lung problems.
Smoke: Inhaling smoke is dangerous because of the particles contained within it. Smoke is made up of carbon particles, ash, volatile organic compounds, and a variety of toxic gases, including hydrogen sulfide. All of these items can permanently damage the respiratory system. It can lead to congestion or obstruction on breathing and cause seizures and a coma.
How can I Avoid Being Injured in a Burning Building?
The best way to avoid injury when a fire breaks out is to escape that building as quickly as possible. Do not hesitate to pick up a favorite memento or other items. A person may only have a few moments before escape becomes impossible and they should not waste them.
For those who do find themselves trapped in a burning building, there are a few steps that they can take to minimize any injuries, such as:
- Stay low to the ground. Heat rises, so it is best to crawl low to the ground where the air will be more manageable.
- Escape as quickly as possible. If it is safe to escape the building, a person should do so immediately. They should cover their nose and mouth with a moist towel to avoid breathing in the toxic air.
- Test the doorknobs and doors. Before moving from one room to another, one should check the doorknobs and the doors themselves to determine if they are hot. If they are too hot, try another door. If they are cool to the touch, open the door slowly. If smoke billows in, close the door immediately.
- Use the stairs. Always use the stairs and never the elevator. The heat and flames can compromise the cables holding it in place and could cause it to fall.
- Call for help immediately. If a person cannot escape the burning building on their own, they should call the fire department. For those unable to use the phone, they should attempt to call out from a window or wave a sheet or towel to draw attention.
- Close the doors. A person should close as many doors as possible between them and the fire. They should also seal every door by stuffing towels underneath. This will prevent heat and smoke from escaping into the room. As for the windows, keep them slightly open unless smoke starts to come in.
How can a Fire Accident Lawyer Help Me?
An experienced fire accident injury lawyer will go over the circumstances of a case to determine how much compensation a victim should receive. Initially, a lawyer will investigate the site of the fire to gather any evidence that will help in establishing a case. A lawyer will likely collect the following:
Pictures: They will want to gather photographic evidence of the fire, including the origination point and the cause. A lawyer will also want to take photographs of any injuries sustained by the victim.
Medical Records: This will complement any photographs that were taken.
Police Report: If a police report was filed, it can be beneficial to a case to have an official statement from the police about what occurred and what they might have observed. Those observations can help support a lawyer’s theory about a case.
Statements: These can also verify what a victim says occurred during the fire. They might provide context to the event.
Once the evidence is collected, a lawyer will file a lawsuit against the individual or entity that is liable for the circumstances that led to the fire or the one who caused the fire and the victim’s injuries. From that point, they will represent their client through negotiations over a settlement or at a trial if it is necessary.
The first step in settlement negotiations begins when the lawyer contacts the insurance company for the party responsible for the burn injuries and demands a settlement. An experienced lawyer will construct an evidenced-based case that will support the settlement demand. In some cases, an insurance company will pay the claim that is demanded. In most cases, the insurance company will counter the offer with an alternative amount. A lawyer will negotiate the best possible settlement and will be prepared to go to trial if all negotiations fail.
What Damages are Available After a Fire?
A victim injured in a fire is entitled to various claims and can obtain special damages. Special damages may include:
Medical Bills: These cover all doctor visits, treatments, surgeries, and any other medical expenses a victim amasses due to their burn injuries.
Lost Wages: A severe injury will likely keep a person out of work, and if they do not have the sick time to cover that time off, they will not be paid. The wages they would have earned had it not been for the fire can also be calculated and incorporated into a lawsuit.
Earning Capacity: A person may no longer be able to hold the same job that they were doing prior to the accident. They may be forced to start a whole new career, which might not be as profitable as the first one. The amount of money the victim would have earned can also be factored into a lawsuit.
Damaged Property: If property was also damaged in the fire, a victim is entitled to request compensation for that damage as well.
General Damages: These types of expenses do not have any defined monetary value and will be a calculation that the lawyer comes up with. These types of damages include physical pain, emotional suffering, physical disfigurement, and physical impairment.
For help with a lawsuit to collect damages, it is vital that a victim speaks to a lawyer right away.
New Jersey Fire Accident Lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr Advocate for Clients Impacted by Burns and Fires
A burn injury and a house fire can have a major impact on a victim. The New Jersey fire accident lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr protect the rights of those impacted by fires and severe burns. We can help you if a fire or burn injury was caused by another person’s negligent actions. For more information and a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 732-249-4600. Located in Highland Park, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout New Brunswick, Somerset, Piscataway, Edison, South River, Sayreville, Metuchen, East Brunswick, South Plainfield, Fords, Middlesex, Old Bridge, Iselin, Bound Brook, Perth Amboy, Colonia, Elizabeth, and Newark.