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Fires are one of the most catastrophic, yet often preventable disasters. With over 1.3 million fires reported by FEMA in 2018 resulting in more than 3,600 deaths and $13 billion in damages, stopping fires from ever starting is a cooperative undertaking.

Developers, builders, municipalities and occupants share the responsibility of reducing the risk of fire. The design, materials used, fire codes implemented, and user best practices are all important factors.

Still, fires can happen in the blink of an eye, and leave people critically injured or dead, as well as emotionally and financially devastated.

Fire claims can be complicated

In commercial settings, a business owner is typically liable according to their business insurance policy. However, there are also factors that could hold a third party accountable, like a faulty installation or defective product. However, there are many scenarios that are considered in fire liability, so it’s important to pinpoint the exact source of a fire first and foremost.

Defective products or installations, which could include appliances or even gas lines, may subject their manufacturer or seller to liability in the event of a fire or explosion. In these cases, a plaintiff would have to prove that the product in question caused the fire, and that it wasn’t due to negligence on the part of a property owner, such as failure to properly inspect the premises.

In those cases, the property owner will be held responsible for the fire. For example, if an apartment complex catches on fire, tenets may have a case against the property owner or landlord for failure to address a fire hazard.

Intentional versus unintentional fires

In some instances, a homeowner or renter is the cause of a fire. In that case, their own insurance, whether it’s rental or homeowners coverage, would be responsible for the damages. The fire may have been the result of negligence or oversight.

However, there are times when fires are part of an effort to commit fraud. Intentionally starting a fire to collect an insurance claim or otherwise cause damage on purpose is considered arson, and may be treated criminally. If the fire starter is a renter or building tenant, the property owner can hold that tenant responsible for intentional damages.

Fortunately, by practicing fire safety, including making an emergency plan, learning fire prevention and knowing your building’s fire escapes, you can reduce the likelihood of a fire and prevent harm.