An inferno tore through a Bronx apartment complex near Yankee Stadium last night, destroying the homes of many and injuring three residents and twenty-eight firefighters, reports the New York Daily News. To give you an idea of how bad the blaze was, a six alarm fire requires 24 fire engines and 13 ladders.
Here, more than 200 firefighters were on the scene.
Residents say that the fire alarms did not go off. Instead, neighbors alerted each other by banging on doors. One wonders, had the alarms functioned properly, if the fire would have been tamed sooner and resulted in less injuries.
At this point, the cause of the fire has not yet been determined. All we know is that the fire started shortly after midnight and four hours later, it was under control.
In addition to the allegedly malfunctioning fire alarms, the building also has 94 code violation, including 39 open, reports the Daily News. Most of the violations were for non-working elevators. The building was also cited July 3 for a broken elevator.
Should any of those code violations be relevant to the fire (elevators are off-limits during a fire anyway) and the injuries of the firefighters, one might wonder if the building owner can be held responsible for the firefighters' injuries.
There's really two conflicting provisions of law here. There is the common-law rule, inherited from old times, called the Firefighter's Rule. It bars rescuers from suing to recover for their injuries sustained in the line of duty. Logically, the law makes sense. Those who run into a burning building know that it is risky and choose to do so at their own risk. It's part of their job.
However, such a draconian rule, to use legal terminology, kinda sucks. Not all fires are created equal. A house fire, caused by something innocent, such as a short in an electrical cord, is not the same thing as a six-alarm factory fire caused by shoddy upkeep and dozens of code violations.
Enter the legislature. Sensing that such a draconian law would produce unfair results, the legislature stepped up decades ago and amended the law. The present rule is this: if there are violations of federal, state, county, city, or municipality law that result, directly or indirectly, in the injury or death of a firefighter, the firefighter or their surviving relative can sue for damages.
The statute is a great compromise. Shoddy tenement owners, slumlords, and abandoned building owners that allow their buildings to deteriorate into extreme deathtraps can be held liable, while the ordinary resident, who just lost everything in a fire, probably won't be facing a lawsuit while living in a Red Cross shelter.
- Consult a New York Personal Injury Attorney (FindLaw)
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