It’s a cool night. With a light evening breeze and a low in the upper 50s, you decide it’s time to break out that old electric space heater your landlord provided when you moved into the apartment three years ago. The cord is a little frayed, and it’s so old that it doesn’t have a grounded plug, but a few minutes after you turn it on there is a pleasant warmth in your bedroom. You crawl under a blanket and go to sleep.
Around 3:10 a.m., the space heater shorts out in a flare of sparks. A few of those sparks ignite the overstuffed armchair in your bedroom, which begins to smolder. An oily dark smoke rises to the ceiling. It’s almost a minute later before the smoke alarm sounds. The apartment has no automatic sprinkler system, and the only fire extinguisher is in the kitchen.
You awaken, groggy and disoriented. Because the short in the space heater tripped the circuit breaker, the only light in the room is the raging flame on the chair, which now has spread to the carpet. Soon, the toxic smoke in the room obscures even that light. Choking, you cannot find the door.
In six more minutes, your neighbors will call 9-1-1 for fire rescue and evacuate the building. That’s six minutes too late for you.
North Carolina Apartment Fires and the Dangers of Flammable Furnishings
Experts estimate that about one-third of all household fire deaths are due to flammable furnishings. Mattresses, bedding, and upholstered furnishings are the leading vehicles for the spread of flames. When furniture incorporates man-made materials—polyurethane foam and acrylic compounds being the most common—the smoke produced when the object burns is poisonous. Toxic smoke inhalation is more likely than burns to cause fatalities in home and apartment fires.
The federal Consumer Products Safety Commission has issued flammability standards for mattresses. Its attempts to regulate fire safety rules for other home furnishings have stalled. California is the only state that has adopted furniture flammability rules at the state level to prevent household fires.
Who is responsible?
It’s not that costly for manufacturers to make upholstered furniture fire-resistant. However, consumers do not demand fire-resistant home furnishings, and factories will not invest in the extra expense until they are forced to do so. That might require government regulation, but legal action may be equally effective. If a fire starts or spreads because of known flaws in the manufacturing process, then the company which made the defective merchandise can be held liable for any injuries that result.
Similarly, if a fire breaks out in a building, the property owner may be responsible for any resulting damage to others. A landlord can be held accountable for providing flammable, pre-regulation mattresses or overstuffed chairs in a furnished apartment, because he should have known of the risks involved. A homeowner also can be responsible for injuries to a houseguest caught in a fire on her premises.
At Speaks Law Firm, we help North Carolina burn victims and the families of fatal residential fires recover compensation for their losses. To contact a Wilmington premises liability attorney for a FREE consultation, please call 910-341-7570 locally or 877-593-4233 statewide toll-free.