When a house or apartment catches on fire and causes serious injuries or even death, who is responsible? Is it the people living there, or the person who owns the building (and is responsible for maintaining it)?
Roughly a third of all Americans rent, so it’s important to understand the answers to these questions, as they potentially affect millions of people in the U.S.
Unlike homeowners, renters are not generally responsible for the upkeep of the property, which includes the electrical system, plumbing, heat and air conditioning units, roof, and so on. Furthermore, tenants have the right to a “safe and habitable” rental.
This means you could be eligible for compensation if you were injured in a fire as a renter. But it might also be possible that your landlord could try to sue you instead!
Is My Landlord Liable for My Burn Injuries?
Your landlord could potentially be liable for your burn injuries if they were found negligent in causing the fire. But if you are found negligent in causing the fire instead, you likely won’t be able to get compensation from the landlord.
Is My Landlord Liable for Repairs?
The landlord is legally responsible for repairs that are not the fault of the tenant.
If the home is completely destroyed by fire, your lease is effectively considered terminated and the landlord doesn’t have to repair it if they don’t want to. But if the building is only partially destroyed, your lease is intact, and your landlord is legally responsible for making repairs to make the rental habitable again as soon as possible.
Furthermore, you are not legally required to pay rent while the unit is being repaired to make it habitable again either, and you may also have the option to end your lease early rather than wait for repairs to be completed.
However, this only applies if you are not responsible for the fire. If you caused the fire, even accidentally, your landlord may not be required to pay for repairs, and you may still be required to pay rent while repairs are being made.
The above conditions apply to Louisiana. The law may differ in other states.
Is My Landlord Liable for My Personal Property Damaged in the Fire?
Unfortunately, your landlord is typically not responsible for the cost of replacing your personal property (furniture, clothing, electronics, and so on) that are damaged or destroyed in a fire.
However, most rental agreements include a requirement to purchase renters insurance. You can file a claim through your renters insurance to compensate you for all your personal property that was lost in the fire. Even better, most renters insurance agrees to compensate you for the cost to replace all property. Which means, you will get enough money to buy a brand-new couch, not just a check for what your couch was worth after ten years of use, and the same applies to all your other possessions.
In terms of filing a renters insurance claim, it doesn’t matter whether the renter or the landlord was found negligent in causing the fire; the renter can file a claim and get compensation either way.
What Are Examples of Landlord Negligence?
Even if a landlord doesn’t directly cause a fire themselves, they can be held responsible for negligence that makes it easier for a fire to start or spread, harder to extinguish, or harder for residents to escape a fire without injury.
Examples of negligent property maintenance include:
- Faulty wiring
- Lack of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, or fire alarms
- Defective smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, or fire alarms
- Building code violations
- Blocked fire exits
- Gas leaks
- Storing flammable chemicals
- Pest infestations
When Could I Be at Fault?
This will primarily depend on how the fire was caused. The landlord can be held liable for negligence if they don’t maintain the property and that causes a fire, but in the same way, you could also be held liable if your own negligence starts a fire.
For example, if you left a dishcloth on a hot stove, and it catches fire, you could be considered liable if that fire spreads to the rest of the house or apartment.
You should also check your lease and make sure you didn’t take any actions that violated its terms and started the fire. For example, if your lease forbids smoking indoors, but the fire was started by a cigarette in the trashcan, you could be considered liable.
What to Do If You’re Injured in a Fire While Living in a Rental Home or Apartment
A fire is often a devastating event, and there are many actions you’ll need to take afterward. However, we go over some of the main items here.
- Get medical attention: smoke inhalation and burns can both lead to serious complications if not treated right away.
- Take pictures of your injuries and the damage: These can act as proof of your losses and when they occurred if/when you file for compensation.
- Rescue any important documents remaining in the home once it is safe to do so: If you do not already own a fireproof safe, make sure to purchase one to store important documents such as your birth certificate and social security card.
- Get a copy of the fire inspector’s report: This is vital evidence! The fire inspector’s report will include the results of the fire inspector’s investigation into how the fire started, and more importantly, who is negligent: you or your landlord.
- Make a list of all items that were damaged in the fire: Include your best estimate of the item’s cost. This will be needed for your renters insurance claim to replace your damaged property.
- Call a lawyer: Proving who was at fault for the fire will be all-important for your ability to get the compensation you need to pay for medical bills and get back on your feet after a devastating fire.
Victim of a Fire? Call Dudley DeBosier Today
We know how devastating burn injuries can be, and how they can rock your life off its moorings. If you are also experiencing the loss of your home, it can feel like too much to handle on your own.
That’s why we want to step in and help. Call our premises liability lawyers today to discuss how we help burn injury victims across Louisiana after fires that weren’t their fault.
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