Boston Personal Injury Attorney Case
Tenant drops from fourth-floor window in fire
Reported in the Lawyers Weekly
Victims claimed alarms were non-operational; $1.5 million settlement
A 43-year-old man resided in a multi-unit apartment located in a commercial building. On Oct. 10, 2010, while he was asleep in the early morning, a fire broke out in the building. He was awoken by the smell of smoke and alleged that he heard no sounds from the building’s alarm system.
Unable to leave the building through the available stairways from his fourth-floor apartment, he hung himself out the window in an attempt to escape the fire. The flames were so intense that he was unable to wait for the first responders to arrive and he fell from the fourth-story window.
As a result of the fall, the plaintiff sustained severe injuries, including fractures of the right frontal bones, right sacrum and right pelvis, as well as a traumatic brain injury involving multi-compartment hemorrhage of the left temporal area and right frontal contusion, along with mild to moderate bi-temporal cerebral dysfunction.
He was in a coma for approximately two weeks before being transferred to a rehabilitation hospital and later to another for extensive physical, speech and occupational therapy.
One of the plaintiff’s physicians noted that he suffered from cognitive deficits including short-term memory loss. The long-term diagnosis was mild impairment but included permanent cognitive dysfunction related to the head injury. The doctor also opined that the head injury may have produced significant psychiatric sequelae. Those were difficult to measure, however, as the plaintiff had been treated for the same mental health issues prior to the accident.
Suit was brought against the property owner and manager. Plaintiff’s counsel produced evidence that the smoke detection system did not function properly or sound in a timely fashion. Other injured victims also filed suit, and the cases were consolidated.
The defendants contested liability, in part because first responders testified that the smoke alarm system was sounding when they arrived.
Extensive discovery was conducted of first responder personnel, local and state fire investigators, and the defendant property owner and manager. One of the most helpful witnesses for the plaintiffs was the property manager’s maintenance employee, who testified that in the unit in which the fire began, the tenant routinely disabled the smoke detector. Still, little was done to assure that the detector remained operational.
Local health officials stated that they verified that the smoke detectors in the apartments were working every time a tenant moved into a unit, but that they never re-checked a unit during the remainder of the tenant’s stay. The tenant in whose apartment the fire began had been in the unit for approximately three years.
The plaintiffs’ fire expert opined that the smoke detection system did not operate in a manner sufficient to alert the occupants to evacuate the building. All of the fourth-floor tenants said they heard no alarm prior to being awoken by the smoke.
Both the building owner and property manager were cited by the state Fire Marshall’s Office. While there was additional discovery pending, the parties agreed to mediation. All of the injured parties attended and reached a settlement in an all-day session.
Action: Negligence & tort/premises liability
Injuries alleged: Multiple fractures, brain injury, coma
Case name: Withheld
Court/case no.: Withheld
Jury and/or judge: N/A (mediated)
Amount: $1.5 million
Date: October 2012
Attorneys: John M. Vlassakis and Angela L. Wieremann, of Joel H. Schwartz, Boston (for the plaintiff)