Fires and explosion-related accidents definitely have the potential to cause severe property damage, devastating injuries as well as fatalities. In the heavily populated metropolitan areas of New York City, fires are, unfortunately, a common occurrence. Structural fires may occur at various locations such as construction sites, factories, public buildings, commercial properties, homes and apartment buildings. If you or a loved one has been injured in a fire or explosion, our experienced New York City fire accident attorney can help fight for your rights and help you secure maximum compensation for your losses.
Fire Accident Statistics
According to the New York Fire Department, in the year 2014, 71 civilians died in structural fires. Also, 50,317 people were rescued during that year by firefighters. Nationwide, 487,500 structural fires were reported in which 2,855 victims died and 14,075 others suffered injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Fires in homes constitute a significant percentage of the total number of structural fires in the U.S. Fire departments across the country responded to an estimated average of 357,000 home structure fires each year during 2009 to 2013, which represents 70 percent of all structural fires in that period.
Home fires during 2009 to 2013 caused an annual average of 2,470 civilian fire deaths, 12,890 civilian fire injuries and $6.9 billion in property damage, which also amounts to 70 percent of all direct damage caused by structural fires. On average, seven people in the U.S. died each day in home fires. The NFPA reports that cooking equipment and smoking are major contributors to home fires. Heating equipment is the second most common cause of home fires and fire-related injuries and deaths.
There are many reasons why incidents that involve gas explosions occur. Over the last 20 years there have been nine gas explosions that have rocked the different boroughs of New York City. Here are some of the most recent deadly explosions in the city and the investigations’ findings of what had caused them:
March 2015: Two men were killed and four others were critically injured when a gas explosion leveled an East Village building. Inspectors found a flexible hose attached to the gas line used to divert gas to apartments upstairs.
March 2014: The most devastating gas explosion in recent years was the one that occurred on Park Avenue in East Harlem that killed eight people and left many others injured. Federal regulators faulted Consolidated Edison and New York City for this horrific incident.
April 2009: A 40-year-old nurse was killed and six others were injured in an explosion, which rocked a home on 260th Street in Floral Park, Queens. Investigators determined that faulty electrical wiring set off a chain of events that led to the explosion.
July 2008: This explosion occurred minutes after Con Edison crews had restored gas service to a building on Sanford Avenue in Flushing, Queens. One man died, and 16 others were injured. A state investigation concluded that a Con Edison worker had failed to adequately check for gas leaks in the area.
The incidents listed above illustrate how the aftermath of a gas explosion affects not only the victims and their families, but also entire neighborhoods and communities. Explosions can leave individuals with serious or even catastrophic burn injuries, nerve damage, internal organ injuries, amputations and broken bones. Victims may also suffer scarring or disfigurement and lifelong disabilities as a result of injuries suffered in these types of explosions. In such incidents, depending on the facts and circumstances of each, the utility company, building owner, property manager and/or property owner or other parties can be held liable for the injuries, damages and losses sustained.
Common Causes of Fires
Various factors may contribute to and/or set off a fire in homes and commercial buildings around New York City. Here are some of the most often cited in cases of structural fires and explosions that lead to deadly fires:
Poor building maintenance: This is one of the most common causes of devastating fires that consume homes and apartment buildings in New York City. Loose wiring, gas lines that are not properly monitored for leaks, appliances that are not properly maintained or repaired – are all examples of negligence on the part of property owner and/or property manager.
Defective products: Often time, home fires are caused by faulty or malfunctioning appliances such as kitchen stoves, toasters, clothes dryers, space heaters, water heaters, etc. Some of these faulty products such as space heaters may also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Aging utilities: New York City has aging infrastructure. The utility companies have a responsibility to conduct prompt repairs and proper maintenance. When these entities fail to carry out proper checks or perform the necessary repairs and maintenance, the consequences can be devastating.
Lack of smoke detectors: New York City law requires all property owners and/or property managers to install and maintain smoke detectors.
Injuries Caused by Fires
The most common injuries caused by a fire or explosion are burn injuries and smoke inhalation injuries.
The seriousness of a burn injury usually depends on the depth to which the skin, tissues, nerves and internal organs are damaged. There are four categories of burn injuries:
First-degree burns: When an individual sustains a first-degree burn, he or she can expect to experience minor pain and redness on the top layer of the skin. Such burn injuries usually heal over a few days. These burns are more or less like sunburns.
Second-degree burns: In such cases, the lower layers of the skin sustain damage. Blisters form and the site of the injury is painful to the touch. There is an increased risk of bacterial infection with second-degree burns. These injuries may take several weeks to heal completely.
Third-degree burns: The skin is blackened and appears dry and leathery. All layers of the skin are damaged and the injury site is usually painless because of nerve damage. In these cases, the chances of infection are very high and the patient will require skin graft surgeries to recover. It may take several months or even years for the individual to recover. In some cases complete recovery may not be possible.
Fourth-degree burns: The skin is completely burned and the injuries extend to the muscles, tissues and bones. There is nerve damage as well and even some of the internal organs may be damaged. The risk of infection and death are extremely high with fourth-degree burns.
Smoke Inhalation Injuries
Many structural fires are typically accompanied by a lot of smoke arising from the partial combustion of various materials. Inhaling the smoke and suffocating from a lack of oxygen in the vicinity can prove to be a lethal combination. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), more people die from smoke inhalation than burn injuries during a structural fire. A burning fire sucks up all the oxygen from the air leaving only toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.
Prolonged exposure to oxygen-depleted air may cause altered mental condition, loss of consciousness or even death. During a fire, victims end up inhaling extremely hot gases that can burn nasal passages and even lung tissue. This may cause permanent internal injuries and respiratory problems. The smoke usually comprises a variety of toxic gases and ash, which can obstruct breathing and cause serious breathing issues, seizures or even coma.
The Importance of Smoke Alarms
A majority of home fire-related deaths and injuries occur in the middle of the night. A smoke alarm can be an extremely valuable life-saving device that can help alert you if there is a fire in the home. An early warning will give members of a household the chance to implement their fire escape plan. While 97 out of 100 homes have a smoke alarm, 33 percent of these homes are unprotected because the smoke alarms don’t work. Property owners and/or property managers have a duty to ensure that their buildings have smoke alarms, which are in working condition. All new and replacement smoke alarms in multiple dwellings and private homes in New York must have a sealed 10-year battery that is non-removable and non-replaceable. The detectors must also have an audible “end of life” warning to alert people that the detector is no longer working.
Who Can Be Held Liable?
Depending on the nature and circumstances of a fire, there are a number of parties that may be held liable for the resulting injuries, damages and losses.
- Property or building owner: The owner of a property can be held liable for fire-related injuries particularly if negligence played a part. Examples of property owner negligence include failing to make adequate repairs, not maintaining the property properly and failing to install or maintain fire alarms, smoke detectors and sprinklers. Property owners have a duty and a legal responsibility to maintain a reasonably safe environment for their tenants.
- Property managers: Property management companies that fail to correctly maintain the building, carry out the necessary repairs or install and maintain smoke detectors or fire alarm systems can be held accountable for fire-related injuries and damages as well.
- Product manufacturers: If the fire was caused by a dangerous or defective product such as a faulty or malfunctioning appliance, the manufacturer can be held liable. When smoke detectors or sprinkler systems fail to work as intended, the manufacturers of those defective products can be held accountable.
- Utility companies: In a city like New York which has aging infrastructure, utility companies have a critical role to play when it comes to repairing and maintaining underground equipment and overhead lines. When utility companies and workers fail to do their jobs properly, fires and explosions can occur causing significant damage. In such cases, the utility companies can be held liable.
Damages Sustained in a Fire
Injured victims of fires and explosions can seek compensation for the injuries, damages and losses they have sustained including, but not limited to:
Medical expenses: Treatment of burn injuries and smoke inhalation injuries may result in significant medical expenses. Patients often need lengthy hospitalization in a burn center, multiple surgeries, intensive treatments and rehabilitative care. Those who have suffered third- or fourth-degree burns require skin graft surgery, which may be painful and costly.
Lost income: Burn injury victims often experience a lengthy healing process. They may not be able to work for an extended period of time, which may result in loss of wages and perhaps, even loss of employment. Many victims are unable to return to work even after several months or years. They may end up losing their ability to earn a livelihood. In such cases, victims can seek compensation for loss of income and loss of earning capacity, which takes into account income that individual might have earned, had he or she not been injured and disabled.
Past and future pain and suffering: You can seek compensation for the physical pain and serious discomfort you have had to endure during the incident and in its aftermath. The recovery process for burn injury victims can be very slow.
Mental anguish: The psychological impact of a traumatic event such as a fire or explosion can also be significant. Patients may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, depression and anxiety as a result of being unable to work, care for family members or because they’ve been scarred and disfigured.
Loss of enjoyment: When injuries caused by a fire or any accident keep victims from enjoying their everyday pursuits and hobbies, they may be entitled to damages for “loss of enjoyment.”
Loss of consortium: This refers to the impact the injuries have on the plaintiff’s relationship with his or her spouse or partner. The loss of companionship or the ability to have a sexual relationship can cause significant issues for couples.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a fire or explosion or if you have lost a loved one in a fire, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Our firm recovered $985,000 out of a $1,000,000 policy in a fire accident case where injuries were sustained because the homeowner did not have smoke detectors installed in an apartment. One of our clients recovered $2,500,000 due to a faulty space heater.
Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury cases in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.
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