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Were You Affected By A Building Fire?

Texas is in the top three states in the nation for fire deaths. In 2011, 261 people were killed in Texas fires. The damage caused by these tragic fires is often avoidable. In many cases, carelessness or defective equipment is the culprit. Wyatt Law Firm fights for those who have been affected by residential fires to recover financial compensation for their losses.

Wyatt Law Firm works with clients, not against them, to get results. Contact us today to learn how we could help you.

We serve people throughout Texas and the nation, including the cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Laredo and Corpus Christi.

What Causes Residential Fires?

the national trial lawyers top 100The leading cause of residential fires is cooking, contributing to approximately 48.7% of fires. However, there are other major causes for fires:

  • Heating systems and other heat sources
  • Carelessness (ex. leaving an unextinguished cigarette out)
  • Electrical or equipment malfunctions
  • Arson
  • Unattended or malfunctioning appliances

Unlike many other types of accidents that can result in injury or death, fires have a number of different causes. Data from the USFA Fire Estimate Summary lists the leading cause of fatal residential fires as “other”, which includes everything from natural causes to appliance malfunctions. Other leading causes of fatal fires are smoking (15%) and carelessness (13.1%). For residential fires resulting in injury only, the leading cause is cooking.

Injuries Caused By Residential Fires

The major injuries caused by residential fires are smoke inhalation and burns. The cause of death for those who die in fires is typically asphyxiation. Some, especially those with preexisting cardiovascular conditions, can experience heart attack. Older Americans have the highest residential fire death rate. Statistics show that individuals aged 85 and older comprise 49.2% of all fire deaths.

Residential Fires And Insurance Coverage

Some people who are affected by residential fires have difficulty recovering the necessary insurance coverage to repair their home, compensate for their lost valuables, and cover the cost of hotel expenses, among other things. Basic homeowner insurance policies cover fire damage, and many insurance companies sell separate fire insurance. When there are fires resulting in large financial loss, particularly fires that affect multiple homes/properties, insurance companies can shortchange owners. If you suspect bad faith on the part of your insurance company after a fire, contact Wyatt Law Firm.

Apartment Fires

The owner of an apartment building and the property manager has a duty to maintain safe conditions on the property. That means keeping the electrical and heating systems in working order, making sure that smoke alarms and sprinkler systems work, providing clear markings for building exits and not blocking those exits. If the building owner or property management company fails in this regard and a fire causes injuries or death, the victims of the fire may be able to claim compensation.

Wyatt Law Firm vigorously represents seriously injured people and the families of wrongful death victims. We have experience in cases involving building fires and other types of property owner negligence.

Careful And Thorough Investigation Is Key

Because a fire can destroy important evidence pointing to the origin of the blaze, it is important to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the conditions that caused the fire. Investigations conducted by the fire department and law enforcement agencies can pinpoint where and how a blaze broke out. But in a fire litigation case, there may be other issues needing investigation, including liability and financial damages.

In building fire cases, Wyatt Law Firm conducts an investigation parallel to that of the municipal fire inspector and other government agencies. Our own team of fire inspectors, engineers, lawyers and other professionals work diligently to confirm the cause of the fire and determine the other issues that are central to a fire liability case.

Who is the actual owner of the building? Was the fire the result of a dangerous product such as a faulty sprinkler system or boiler? Did the building owner comply with relevant municipal codes? How do you determine the full extent of the economic and noneconomic losses of the client?

Building Codes and Fire Hazards

Buildings Not Up To Code Can Have Potential Fire Hazards

At the time any building or structure is built, there are certain compliance codes and regulations that must be met. Because disasters and catastrophes can occur unexpectedly, safety regulations are enforced to proactively prevent certain disasters.

Building fires are destructive and devastating. If not properly contained, fires can extensively damage property and cause serious injury and even death. When it comes to fire hazards, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has certain codes that buildings and apartments should adhere to. If a building is not in compliance with safety rules and restrictions, the property and individuals residing in the space are jeopardized.

Common NFPA Codes

The NFPA provides specific codes that need to be followed. They have been created to minimize the possibility of building fires from taking place and causing irreparable damage.

Some of these codes include:

  • Flammable and combustible liquid codes
  • Liquefied petroleum gas code
  • National electrical code
  • National fuel gas code
  • Uniform fire code

These codes offer standards for wire, gas, and flammable liquids and how they should be handled. They are there to protect individuals from dangerous materials that can combust. Among these rules, buildings are also required to have fire extinguishers available for emergencies. If the building is not up to code, it not only endangers the lives of residents but also poses a serious threat to the structure and environment.

Smoke Detector Failure

Defective Smoke Detectors And Residential Fire Lawsuits

Smoke detectors are an essential fire safety measure, and yet an estimated one-third of smoke detectors in U.S. homes don’t work properly. While a broken fire alarm will not cause a fire, it certainly won’t notify occupants to evacuate the residence. At Wyatt Law Firm, our personal injury attorneys have represented many people harmed by residential fires.

How often should I check my smoke detector?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that you check smoke detectors every month, at minimum. All smoke detectors are different, but generally the batteries need to be replaced in these devices twice a year. Most smoke detectors emit a beeping noise when the batteries are running low and need to be replaced.

How your smoke detector functions will also differ depending on type — whether it takes batteries or is hardwired to the building’s electrical system. In either case, smoke detectors should be tested periodically to ensure they are functioning properly. If they get too old, they will need to be replaced completely.

Responsibility of Property Owners

In Texas, landlords have a duty to inspect and repair smoke alarms in residential, leased dwellings. If you notice that your smoke alarm is not working or working properly, notify your landlord so that they can repair or replace it. State and municipal law dictates smoke detector requirements.

Texas Smoke Detector Law: Health and Safety Code 766.002

According to Texas Health and Safety Code Sec. 766.002,

Each one-family or two-family dwelling constructed in this state must have working smoke detectors installed in the dwelling in accordance with the smoke detector requirements of the building code in effect in the political subdivision in which the dwelling is located, including performance, location, and power source requirements.

Since each “political subdivision” has unique fire codes, San Antonio has its own requirements for smoke detectors — these are found in Section 704.2 of San Antonio’s International Property Maintenance Code.

In residential fire cases caused or exacerbated by a missing or defective smoke detector, it can be difficult to determine who is at fault.

Factors that make these cases complex include:

  • When the building was constructed (will determine if smoke alarm requirements apply)
  • Where the building is located (which political subdivision’s codes apply)
  • What the building is classified as (boarding house, retirement home, apartment complex, etc.)

Residential fire cases involving defective smoke detectors are best handled by an attorney experienced in these types of cases.

Evacuation Plan

When you step into a building, you expect it to be safe. Although emergencies like fires are never planned and sometimes give no warning, there should be plans on how to handle the situation. According to research conducted by the Texas Fire Department, there were a high number of injuries and deaths connected to fires.

The Texas Fire Incident Reporting System reports:

  • 71,119 total reported Texas fires
  • 866 civilian fire injuries
  • 167 civilian fire deaths
  • 102 fire deaths in residential structure fires

Given the high number of injuries and substantial property damage caused by fires, most business and residential buildings are required to have evacuation plans in case of a fire emergency. These safety strategies help prepare people on how to act and exit a building to avoid danger. However, not everyone has an evacuation plan. This can lead to unnecessary risk. The building manager or owner is negligent by not having a plan. If you or a loved one has been injured in a building fire because you were not prepared with an exit strategy, you may have a claim for compensation.

What is an Evacuation Plan?

An evacuation plan is a set list of steps and procedures one should follow in case of an emergency to promote safety. In terms of building fires, there are plans to help residents cautiously exit the structure. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration makes an evacuation plan necessary for most building structures. They mandate that businesses with over 10 employees must have a written emergency action plan, while a business with less people can function with just an oral plan.

According to OSHA’s standard 1910.38, there are specific elements every emergency plan should have. These include:

  • Procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency
  • Procedures for emergency evacuation, including type of evacuation and exit route assignments
  • Procedures to be followed by employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate
  • Procedures to account for all employees after evacuation
  • Procedures to be followed by employees performing rescue or medical duties
  • Name or job title of employees who may be contacted for more information about the plan or an explanation of employee duties under the plan

It is also important that residents and employees have training and practice for how to handle building fires. OSHA recommends that building operators conduct fire drills to prepare civilians on how to handle fire emergencies.

Evacuation plans are created to help individuals prepare for an emergency. It is the responsibility of an owner or building manager to make sure there is a strategy in place to help people safely exit a burning structure. However, if they do not have one, this is a sign of negligence. By not having proper training or information on how to handle a fire, civilians can be unduly hurt. If you or a loved one has been injured because your building did not have the proper evacuation plan, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit.

Faulty Sprinkler Systems Can Fail To Suppress Building Fires

Sprinkler systems can prevent major damage in the event of a building fire. These systems offer a sense of security, knowing that water will be released in times of emergencies to reduce or stop fires. What happens if the fire sprinklers are faulty or were never installed in the first place? Most likely, your residence will sustain serious damage that could have been prevented with sprinklers.

If you believe your building manager failed to properly maintain the sprinkler system in your building or believe that the sprinklers were defective, contact our personal injury attorneys. We have extensive experience dealing with building fire claims and can review your case for free.

We seek maximum compensation for people throughout Texas and the nation, including the cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Laredo and Corpus Christi.

Top Reasons Why Sprinklers May Not Work

Although sprinkler system technology has advanced and newer buildings are constructed with upgraded systems, they can still malfunction. When a sprinkler is properly installed and maintained, it can effectively reduce building fire damage by up to 97%, according to a 2016 study by the fire protection industry. However, when sprinklers do not deploy as intended, fire damage can be devastating.

Common reason why sprinklers may not work effectively include:

  • The sprinklers do not have access to a steady and sufficient supply of water.
  • The sprinklers themselves may have deficient design or structuring errors.
  • Sprinklers that were inadequately installed will not work the way they are supposed to.
  • Faulty building structures can negatively affect the sprinkler’s performance.
  • The sprinkler may not be compatible with the new building structure.
  • The sprinkler was not adequately maintained or checked.

What To Do After A Fire

paula a wyatt attorney wyatt law firm san antonio

San Antonio Building & Residential Fire Attorney, Paula A. Wyatt

Fires can be tragic and a terrifying thing to experience. Wyatt Law Firm is here to help those who suffered loss or sustained injury as a result of a preventable fire. Our injury lawyers represent individuals on a contingency fee: you don’t pay unless we make a financial recovery for you. There is also no cost to call us and tell us about your case, so we invite you to contact us today. We look forward to helping you.

We serve people throughout Texas and the nation, including the cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Laredo and Corpus Christi.


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