Wrongful Death Lawyer
When a fire results in a fatality, you need a wrongful death lawyer who has experience in fire investigations. Typically, by the time a lawyer can conduct his or her own investigation, the evidence is “cold,” in the sense that the fresh evidence is gone by the time a wrongful death lawyer has an opportunity to access the fire loss site. The site will be compromised by the activities of the fire department, including water damage, and structural damage related to their access. Even worse, critical evidence will have been removed by the fire department’s official fire investigator. There may be no survivors and no eyewitnesses.
Despite these challenges, it is important for the wrongful death lawyer to hire his or her own investigator. An investigator can interpret the official fire investigation report, check it for technical accuracy, and explore other possible causes. In the end, the privately-retained fire investigator may be asked to act as an expert witness at trial.
Fires may start for a variety of reasons, some intentional, some the result of negligence, and some the result of defective or poorly maintained equipment. Generally speaking, it is difficult to recover wrongful death damages when a fire is set intentionally. Insurance coverage does not apply to intentional torts. Further, most arsonists are not personally collectable, such that a judgment taken against them will likely remain unsatisfied. One potential exception exists when a fire is started at a leased property, like an apartment complex, or a place of business, and the property does not have proper warning devices, such as fire alarms, safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers or sprinkler systems, or does not have proper working exits or fire escapes. In such cases, though the property owner did not start the fire, they may have nonetheless contributed to a tragic outcome.
Fires begin by having a source of ignition and combustible material. All material is combustible, but obviously, some materials, like gasoline, kerosene, and oil, are more combustible than others. In the law, the greater the risk, the greater the duty of care. Therefore, the more combustible the material, the more stringent fire precautions must be.
When a defective product is involved, it is important to gain access to the product, such as a heater, furnace, or electrical device. Liability for defective products is called strict liability, meaning the product manufacturer or supplier is automatically liable if the product has a design defect or manufacturing defect. However, misuse is a defense. So, in such cases, the defendant manufacturer will hire its own investigator to explore whether the product was misused or improperly maintained.
For a wrongful death lawyer, keys to success include an early thorough investigation and hiring top-flight experts to explore and explain the true cause of a catastrophic fatal fire.